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Goncalo Ramos, the accidental striker who replaced Cristiano Ronaldo

Despite Portugal having a striker in five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Goncalo Ramos was chosen to start for their round-of-16 match against Switzerland.

Portugal's Goncalo Ramos celebrates scoring their first goal. (Reuters)
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Goncalo Ramos, the accidental striker who replaced Cristiano Ronaldo
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Despite Portugal having a striker in five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Goncalo Ramos was chosen to start for their round-of-16 match against Switzerland.

He never really played as a striker at the academy he was at. That happened by chance. The actual striker was injured and he took his place, scored two goals and made the position his.

On Tuesday, it was less to do with chance. Despite Portugal having a striker in five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, Goncalo Ramos was chosen to start for their round-of-16 match against Switzerland.

And just like that time at the academy, the Benfica striker has made the position his, scoring a splendid hat-trick in what was his first start for his national team.

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Ramos joined the club’s Seixal academy when he was 12. The son of a former Farense player, Marco Ramos, he didn’t take long to make the leap. By the age 16-17, he was playing regularly for the youth teams, albeit as a midfielder. That didn’t really matter though, as he was still scoring 25-30 goals a season.

Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos celebrates scoring their fifth goal and his hat-trick. (Reuters)

Top scorer at the under-19 Euros in 2019, a tournament in which Portugal finished runners-up, it was only a matter of time before Ramos broke into the first team. In July 2020, he came on in the 85th minute against Desportivo Aves and wasted no time. The kid from Olhao scored twice, becoming the first Benfica player to bag a brace on his debut since former Wales international Mark Pembridge in 1998.

It also meant that Ramos scored for four different Benfica teams in one season (the juniors, the under-23s, the B team and the first team).

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It was a no-brainer then for Benfica, who after selling Darwin Nunez to Liverpool for €80million in the summer, found their replacement from within.

Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos kisses the ball after the match after scoring a hat-trick. (Reuters)

Ramos’ fine start to the 2022 season earned him his first senior call up for Portugal’s Nations League games in September. The top scorer in Portugal’s Primeira Liga was instrumental in Benfica’s qualification for the Champions League group stage — scoring a hat-trick against Midtjylland — and in Benfica’s domestic campaign with 13 wins from 13 games.

After the under-19 Euros, the boy from Olhao said: “I want to win some competitions, like championships, Champions League, European, World Cup.”

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And on the biggest of stages, he was doing just that, scoring three different types of goals that any striker would dream of.

The first goal came from nothing. A pure striker’s goal. After receiving the ball in the box, he realised the defender had given him just an inch of space and maybe a second to manoeuvre. That was enough for Ramos as he hammered home from the most acute angle.

Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos celebrates. (Reuters)

The second was a poacher’s finish. He made it look so easy, nutmegging goalkeeper Yann Sommer. His smoking gun celebration said it all.

For his third, he beautifully read a through ball, then ran through to chip the goalkeeper.

“Not even in my wildest dreams did I think about being part of the starting team for the knockout stage,” said Ramos, who became the first player to score a hat-trick on his first World Cup start since Miroslav Klose for Germany in 2002.

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Portugal’s Goncalo Ramos celebrates scoring. (Reuters)

His performance did not come as a surprise to his team-mates though.

Manchester United talisman Bruno Fernandes said after the match: “People are not aware of the quality of the Portuguese league. Benfica have been doing really well in the Champions League, so people should be aware of Goncalo, of his qualities.

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“He’s a player that runs and works a lot, helps the team defensively, he’s that type of striker that is everywhere.

“He had the chance to score three goals, but he’s a striker that creates space for others, fights, has the ball and is strong. Today was his day to score the goals and we’re happy for that.”

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“He’s a great talent and not just that,” added Bernardo Silva. “He’s got that striker’s instinct, knowing where the ball is going to land to finish the action, but also a worker, always trying to do what’s best for the team and not best for him.”

First published on: 07-12-2022 at 12:09 IST
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