Portugal, With Ronaldo on the Bench, Runs into Morocco’s Momentum

Rory Smith

Credit…Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Rationally, Fernando Santos has no choice at all to make.

In the group phase of the World Cup, his Portugal team looked hesitant, cumbersome, ever so slightly disjointed. In the round of 16, everything came together. Against Switzerland, Portugal was fluent, imaginative, devastating.

The difference, of course, was that Santos had done the unthinkable: He had relegated Cristiano Ronaldo — 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 without any quibble: Called into Santos’s office, Ronaldo asked his manager whether he was sure it was the right move. “Do you really think that’s a…

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