Joao Felix, Pepe and Goncalo Ramos were keen to downplay any connection between the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal’s brilliant performance in the last 16 of the World Cup.

Ronaldo was sensationally dropped by coach Fernando Santos for the clash with Switzerland following a string of poor performances and unhelpful distractions.

21-year-old Ramos stepped in and hit a hat-trick on his World Cup debut in a 6-1 win that appeared to prove that Portugal are no longer reliant on their all-time top scorer.

Ramos himself was the first to rally around Ronaldo after the match, saying: “He’s the captain, he’s the leader and we always look forward to playing side by side with him.”

Another player Ronaldo’s absence appear to unleash was Felix, who did not get himself on the scoresheet despite a brilliant performance.

“It was a great game for the whole team,” Felix told RTP3. “We started well from the first minute. We played a complete game and when it’s like that it’s harder for someone to beat us.

“Whether Cristiano is there or not, the important thing is the team. The team also plays well when Ronaldo is there.”

Veteran defender Pepe concurred, and he quashed any rumours that Ronaldo was throwing any tantrums over the decision to drop him.

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“He knows perfectly well that the most important thing is ‘us’,” Pepe said. “What happened today was the coach’s choice and must be respected.”

Pepe grabbed a piece of World Cup history for himself too, as he became the oldest man to ever score in a knockout stage game.

He rose to brilliantly head home a first half corner, but he was keen to credit good old-fashioned training ground work for it.

”We’ve been working on it and in the first corner we were going to hit straight,” he said. “I was in the right place. The collective hard work paid off.”


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