It was a feat that had them scrambling for the record books. The first man to score a hat-trick on his first World Cup start since Miroslav Klose two decades ago. The youngest man to score a World Cup hat-trick since Florian Albert for Hungary in 1962.
None of that does justice to what Goncalo Ramos did for Portugal in their 6-1 win over Switzerland. It was not Klose’s first hat-trick for Germany. Albert had already established himself. Ramos had not even played for his country just three weeks ago.
And yet, here he was, thrust into the team for a knockout game at the 2022 World Cup as the replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo. The replacement for the all-time top scorer in men’s international football. The replacement for a legend.
The pressure should have been disconcerting if not overwhelming. But with 33 minutes of international experience to call upon, he used the next 67 to score three goals, vindicating his manager’s decision and breathing new life into this Portugal team.
“It is not easy to replace Ronaldo but he faces it like it is a normal thing,” Joao Nuno Fonseca tells Sky Sports. “He has good technical ability but it is more than that, it is his character as a person. We felt that already at Benfica. It is not a surprise that he produces this.
“He is showing the world what he can do now. He deserves this.”
Fonseca coached Ramos when he was playing for Benfica’s B team in Portugal’s second division as well as on their run to the final of the UEFA Youth League in 2020. He maintains the performance against Switzerland that shocked the world is no surprise.
“Goncalo is a player who in terms of emotional balance is very good with that. He has this ability. He was never going to be fazed by the media, the pressure. He knows his potential and what he can give to the game, that is the most important thing.”
Anticipation is his biggest strength
The variety of his goals stood out. There was a fierce shot with his left foot for the opener and a clever near-post run that brought his second. The hat-trick goal was a dinked effort with his right foot that showcased his composure. The movement was key.
“I believe what characterises him best is this ability to anticipate the movement before the defenders,” explains Fonseca. “He reads the game really well. That is why he is able to find the spaces that others cannot find. He sees it before the others see it.
“That is why playing him as a striker is a perfect fit but he is a player who gives a lot of options for the coach because he also has that ability to play as an offensive midfielder between the striker and the midfielder. He played that hybrid position when he was younger.”
That is significant because it is Ramos’ ability to connect the team that is likely to have persuaded Fernando Santos that he was the best option. Ronaldo can still score. Rafael Leao has been doing that for Milan and came on to make it six. Ramos does more.
Santos outlined the demands of the striker role when discussing Leao before the game. “Unlike with his club side, where he has licence to roam from the left wing, here he has to keep our shape and he is struggling with that,” said the Portugal coach.
Ramos fulfilled the brief against Switzerland. “He can play as a reference now and that fits the idea of Fernando Santos really well,” adds Fonseca. It was what he did out of possession that his coach will have particularly enjoyed – even before any of his goals.
How his pressing helped Portugal
“Without the ball, in the first moments of the game, we did not have so many chances. But his influence in terms of not allowing Switzerland to establish their attacking organisation was huge. That had a big impact on the team and on the game.
“The pressing triggers that he gives to the rest of the team are incredible. It is the intensity of that pressing when Portugal do not have the ball, that is what allows the other lines of the team to be together. That is why the team was so compact.”
Joao Felix produced his best performance of the World Cup, illuminating Portugal in the final third. Bruno Fernandes impressed again. It is tempting to conclude that they were emboldened in Ronaldo’s absence but this was tactical as well as psychological.
With Ramos, everything else clicked. Expectations will inevitably follow. One game may have changed his career trajectory. The next three could change his life. “This will have a big impact but his focus is tremendous so he will not feel that pressure,” adds Fonseca.
“He will not lose his focus because he will not focus on the outside, only on his tasks and what is being demanded of him by his coach. Emotionally, he has that balance. That is why he could do what he did. That is why he was able to replace Ronaldo.”
For his old coach, there is pride. “The biggest thing for us as coaches is to see our academy players progressing to the first team and the world seeing their talent. I enjoyed working with him so to see what he is doing now at the highest level is the biggest trophy.”
Maybe Goncalo Ramos has another trophy in mind now.