At just 21 years old, Gonçalo Ramos needed just a few games to make Darwin Nunez forgotten at Benfica. Now, after a memorable night at the World Cup, he is giving Portugal reasons to look beyond the Cristiano Ronaldo era with confidence. The first qualification of the Lusitanians among the best 8 teams in the world after a break of 16 years is largely due to him.
Initially, it seemed like just a journalistic prank. A poll in the Portuguese media has shown that most fans agree with the idea of Cristiano Ronaldo being a substitute in the match against Switzerland in the round of eighths of the World Cup in Qatar. But want people want doesn t count that much in such situations. No one would have imagined that Fernando Santos would give up his star, national team captain, national team leader and all-time top scorer just because the people at home want him to. And yet…
Unhappy with Ronaldo’s reaction after being substituted in the last group stage game against South Korea, Santos had a more heated discussion with the former Manchester United player. Nobody can know for sure that this was the reason behind the 68-year-old coach’s decision, but what is certain is that when the starting lines for the Portugal v Switzerland match were announced, Cristiano appeared as a substitute. The first time in his career that he was going to start a World Cup match on the bench. In his place came Gonçalo Ramos, a 21-year-old who is having a formidable season at Benfica but who, until Tuesday night, had played just 33 minutes for Portugal. Of these, only 10 were at the tournament in Qatar. He entered two minutes with Ghana and 8 minutes with Uruguay. Against the Swiss, he was in the starting line-up for the national team.
No one can say that replacing Ronaldo is easy. Especially in such a context and in a World Cup knockout match. But Gonçalo Ramos showed what a winning bet really means. The Benfica forward opened the scoring after just 17 minutes with a blistering shot that was unanswered by Yann Sommer. He made it 3-0 as a veritable pinnacle, pouncing on Diogo Dalot’s cross at the short corner. He then completed his career night with a fine execution, a ladder for 5-1. He left the field cheered by the entire stadium in the 74th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo came in his place. Apart from the 3 goals – the first hat-trick recorded at the World Cup in Qatar -, he had the most shots (6) and the most shots on goal (5). The best way to introduce yourself to the world and announce that Portugal already has a future.
“Dammit!”, titled A Bola, after Portugal – Switzerland 6-1, a result that takes the Lusitanians to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 2006. The truth is that no title seems far-fetched after Ramos’ superlative performance. A first-time World Cup starter, he already boasts more goals in the knockout stages of the competition than Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi combined. The resounding statistics do not stop there, however.
Gonçalo Ramos became the first player to score a hat-trick in the knockout stages of the World Cup since Tomas Skuhravy in Czechoslovakia Costa Rica 4-1 in the last eighths of the tournament in 1990. At 21 years and 169 days, he is the youngest footballer with a hat-trick at the World Cup since Florian Albert, who scored 3 times in a 6-1 Hungary – Bulgaria in 1962, at 20 years and 261 days. In the knockout stages, only Pele managed a hat-trick at such a young age. “O Rei” was 17 years and 244 days old when he managed to score 3 goals against France, in the semi-finals of the 1958 World Cup.
These are numbers that confirm the extraordinary performance of Gonçalo Ramos. The replacement for Darwin Nunez, whom Benfica didn’t even have to give out of the money collected from Liverpool in exchange for the Uruguayan, because they brought him up themselves. Born in Olhão, Algarve, in the south of Portugal, Ramos entered the youth academy of the “Eagles” at the age of 12. He made his debut in the first team at the end of the 2019/20 season. He came on in the 85th minute of an away match against Aves and scored a brace in a 4-0 win. Since then, he got more and more minutes, until the definitive consecration of this season. He has contributed enormously to Benfica’s excellent run this season: clear league leaders, qualified for the last eighths of the Champions League from the top spot in a group with PSG and Juventus, and is still unbeaten. He has 14 goals scored in 21 appearances in all competitions.
So the hat trick against Switzerland didn’t really come out of nowhere, but the scene turned him into a global star. Gonçalo Ramos has made a memorable entry into World Cup history and is arguably setting up the end of the Ronaldo era for Portugal.