World Cup: Portugal coach does not regret leaving Ronaldo out against Morocco

Coach Fernando Santos (right), as a tearful Ronaldo leaves the pitch after Portugal's loss. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

DOHA - Portugal coach Fernando Santos said that he would not change his decision to leave Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench even after his team were knocked out of the World Cup by Morocco in the quarter-finals on Saturday.

Ronaldo, Portugal’s all-time leading scorer with 118 goals, was benched for Tuesday’s 6-1 win over Switzerland in the last 16. His replacement in the starting line-up, 21-year-old Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick in only his fourth appearance.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who came on as a second-half substitute against Morocco, stormed off the pitch after their defeat, crying while being comforted by his teammates.

“If you take two people that are the most upset, perhaps it was Cristiano Ronaldo and myself,” said Santos.

“Of course we are upset, of course it affects us, that’s part of the game, that’s part of the job... I do not regret (leaving Ronaldo on the bench).

“I used the team that played really well against Switzerland and there was no reason to change it (against Morocco).

“The strategic decision that I had to make was one of the hardest, but I can’t think with my heart, I have to think with my head.

“It’s not that Ronaldo is no longer a great player, that has nothing to do with it.”

Ronaldo’s partner Georgina Rodriguez saw things differently, posting on Instagram: “Today your friend and coach decided wrong. That friend for whom you have so many words of admiration and respect.

“The same one who, by getting you into the game, saw how everything changed, but it was too late. You cannot underestimate the best player in the world, his most powerful weapon.”

The statistics painted a different picture.

On his world record-equalling 196th cap, the 37-year-old’s 39 minutes (plus eight in stoppage time) yielded five passes – three of which were completed – and 10 touches, three of which were in the Morocco penalty area.

Ronaldo had one shot at goal but it was well saved by Yassine Bounou as his presence seemed to prompt his teammates to play hopeful crosses rather than try to find a more patient, incisive route to goal.

Morocco extended their dream run by becoming the first African and Arab country to reach the final four of the tournament, thanks to a Youssef En-Nesyri goal in the first half.

Portugal coach Fernando Santos (right) reacts during the match, with Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench (centre). PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Santos refused to comment on whether he will resign and said that he will talk to the Portuguese football association president over the next week about his future.

He said his team had difficulty finding spaces between the disciplined Moroccan defensive lines, and praised their opponents, saying it was “completely their merit”.

“We showed effort and quality, had several chances to score with Joao Felix, and Bruno Fernandes hitting the bar, Pepe had a header in the end that could have been the equaliser,” he added. “A bit of luck was missing.”

Nigel de Jong, who reached the 2010 World Cup final with the Netherlands, suggested that complacency, rather than luck, was the issue. He said on ITV: “Maybe they were thinking in a light way about Morocco. The approach was not the same approach as what we saw against Switzerland, the high-energy, high-octane approach.”

Fellow ITV pundit Graeme Souness agreed. He said: “I thought Portugal will have looked at what happened to Spain and said, ‘This won’t be us. We are going to get on the front foot, we have got better strikers, we will score goals against them and it could be an easy night’. 

“But they didn’t do that.” REUTERS

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.