The move came a day after his coach expressed frustration about his team captain’s attitude in the last game. Gonçalo Ramos, who plays for Portuguese club Benfica, started in Ronaldo’s place at Lusail Stadium.
Ronaldo jogged onto the field in pregame to loud cheers at Lusail Stadium. He was grouped with the substitutes and kicked the ball around in light drills. João Cancelo, a fullback who started all three matches of the group stage, was also dropped from the starting lineup.
The benching came after Ronaldo showed obvious displeasure at being removed from the game against South Korea on Friday.
The 37-year-old striker opened the tournament with a goal against Ghana to become the first player to score in five different World Cups. But he was ineffective in Portugal’s final two games of group play and was pulled midway through the second half of a 2-1 loss to South Korea.
Ronaldo’s body language indicated the superstar was annoyed at being taken out of the game — something Portugal coach Fernando Santos remained silent about for nearly three days.
Finally in his Monday news conference, Santos conceded Ronaldo’s attitude in the game against South Korea was the one distraction — of many — that had pushed him too far.
Before Portugal’s first match of the World Cup, Ronaldo cut ties with Manchester United and is reportedly being wooed by a Saudi Arabian team with the promise of an exorbitant paycheck, and a poll in Portugal showed that fans in his home country wanted the superstar dropped from the lineup.
“I didn’t like it, not at all. I really didn’t like it,” Santos said Monday of Ronaldo’s poor attitude at being taken out of the game against South Korea. “We fixed that in-house and that’s it.”
Portugal defender Rúben Dias, meanwhile, pleaded with Portuguese media to help “create unity” in the camp instead of division. It was Portuguese daily O Bola’s poll that showed fans at home had tired of Ronaldo and preferred he didn’t play against Switzerland.
It’s not unprecedented for Ronaldo to get less playing time because the aging superstar has faded of late. He barely played in the Premier League for United through the first half of the season, and Santos dropped him from the Portugal lineup for a Nations League game against Spain in March.
With Ronaldo, Portugal has advanced to the round of 16 of the World Cup in four of his five tournaments, but he’s never played in a World Cup final. Portugal in 2006 lost to France in the semifinals — the deepest Ronaldo has ever reached at the World Cup.
Although he’s scored in five tournaments, he has only eight total goals in 20 World Cup matches. His 118 goals in international play is a world record for men, but Ronaldo has never scored in the knockout stage of the World Cup.
Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s greatest rival over the years, has scored three goals so far in this World Cup and helped Argentina reach the quarterfinals. Messi has nine career World Cup goals, and like Ronaldo, has never won the tournament.