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Portugal vs Morocco Live: World Cup Rating and Updates

Published:

Dec. 10, 2022, 8:52 a.m. ET

Dec. 10, 2022, 8:52 a.m. ETCredit…Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Rationally, Fernando Santos has no selection in any respect to make.

Within the group phase of the World Cup, his Portugal team looked hesitant, cumbersome, ever so barely disjointed. Within the round of 16, the whole lot got here together. Against Switzerland, Portugal was fluent, imaginative, devastating.

The difference, after all, was that Santos had done the unthinkable: He had relegated Cristiano Ronaldo — probably the most celebrated player in his nation’s history, who was playing in his farewell tournament — to the ranks of the substitutes. Ronaldo had not taken the news with none quibble: Called into Santos’s office, Ronaldo asked his manager whether he was sure it was the appropriate move. “Do you actually think that’s a superb idea?” Ronaldo said, in Santos’s telling. The coach didn’t specify whether the emphasis was on the “really” or on the “good.”

Because it turned out, after all, it was a superb idea. An especially good one. Portugal beat Switzerland, 6-1. Ronaldo’s direct substitute, the unheralded Gonçalo Ramos, scored a hat trick, as if to underline the purpose. It was not only that Portugal seemed free without Ronaldo. It was that the team, eventually, made sense without him.

Going into Portugal’s quarterfinal against Morocco on Saturday, then, it is difficult to assume Santos going back on his decision and reinstating Ronaldo to the team. He has made the most important call he could make, in any case; he has already taken the chance, ridden the slings and arrows of criticism, gambled that he can retain the 37-year-old Ronaldo’s faith even when he feels his ego has been pricked. Why make that the majority painful of breaks only to retrace your steps just a few days later?

That interpretation, though, underestimates not only how much influence Ronaldo has on this Portuguese squad — a considerable portion of which is young enough to treat him less as a peer and more as a hero — but, more vital, the status he has in Portugal.

Polls in Portugal over the previous couple of days have suggested that Santos has public support, that there isn’t a deafening clamor for Ronaldo to be reinstated. But he’s a national icon, almost actually probably the most star within the nation’s history, just ahead of Vasco da Gama and Nelly Furtado.

Dropping him, after all, is a substantial gamble. And will Portugal make it through the quarterfinal, the pressure to incorporate him will only grow. Before the round of 16, Santos made the most important call of his profession. He may yet have three calls of even greater scale awaiting him.

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