Fernando Santos is certain his personal bond with Cristiano Ronaldo will not be broken despite dropping him from the team before Portugal smashed six past Switzerland.
‘I have a very close relationship,’ said Santos. ‘I know him since he was 19 at Sporting and then he started to develop in the national squad when I arrived in 2014.
‘Ronaldo and I never misinterpret the human and personal aspect with that of manager and player. I will always consider that he is a very important player to have in the team.’
Portugal produced their most emphatic performance of the World Cup and the 68-year-old boss had to admit he liked the look of his team without their 37-year-old superstar striker.
‘That is what was intended, what we wanted,’ said Santos. ‘We wanted a team that played with a lot of fluidity. We played very well. We were a team that was circulating, had ball possession.
‘We had a lot of trust, played with a lot of determination and unity, and that reflects in the capacity to win back the ball. Everything worked very well.’
Santos insisted his decision to leave out Ronaldo had been tactical not disciplinary, after the captain’s tantrum on Friday when replaced towards the end of a defeat against South Korea, but the manager soon tired of questions on the subject.
‘This is something that is finished and solved,’ he added. ‘It is also important to look at the example of this player’s history, he is one of the best players in the world.’
Ronaldo’s replacement was Goncalo Ramos, a 21-year-old from Benfica who made his international debut in a friendly against Nigeria, three days before the World Cup started, and got the nod ahead of Leipzig’s Andre Silva.
‘Goncalo has different characteristics,’ said Santos. ‘Andre is a great player who plays more advanced. Cristiano is more fixed, in a determined area towards the box. Goncalo is very dynamic and that’s what he ended up showing us.
‘It’s nothing new. He already came on in two matches but I have three players I fully trust and for each match I will use which player I see for my strategy.’
It will, however, be a bold decision to drop Ramos for Saturday’s quarter-final against Morocco after this performance.
‘Honestly, in our team no-one talked about it,’ said Ramos, when asked how the surprising team selection was received. ‘Cristiano, as captain, did what always does, he helped us, encouraged us, not only myself but also to my colleagues.
‘Not in my wildest dream did I think I would be part of the starting 11 in the knock-out stages of the World Cup.’