Now that the draw is opening up for Portugal you can start to see the hazy outline of it all. Cristiano Ronaldo finally gets the one great medal that is missing from his trophy cabinet. The record scorer in men's international football wins the World Cup, not only burgeoning his own standing in the sporting pantheon but robbing his great rival Lionel Messi of his last chance to do the same.
It has the shape of a Hollywood ending... except the Avengers have decided to leave Iron Man behind for this one. We'll call you up when the battle is won Tony. Of course you can have a medal.
On the evidence of this invigorating 6-1 win, restoring Ronaldo to the starting lineup would be an almighty step backwards for Portugal at a time when the path to the final is opening up for them. If they overcome Morocco -- something their Iberian neighbors would warn them not to take for granted -- then they would have a stern test indeed in the form of the winner of France and England's quarterfinal showdown. But if Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes can weave their intricate passing moves, if Joao Felix can tear past opponents at will and if Goncalo Ramos can fire a shot on target every 14 minutes then there are few teams you would make favorites against Portugal.
It wasn't just the goals from the young Benfica forward, spectacular as all three of them were. Ramos brought others into play, creating as many chances as anyone else in red while he was on the pitch, and was not remotely wasteful in his passing. Off the ball he worked relentlessly to regain possession
Whether it was a technical decision or a disciplinary matter -- Santos had pronounced himself far from impressed with Ronaldo's response to a South Korean opponent when he was substituted in the last group game -- hardly matters now. No one is stepping back across the line in the sand, however much it might disappoint the neutrals in Qatar.
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For 73 minutes this crowd were treated to an intoxicating vision of what post-Ronaldo Portugal could look like. Some were evidently more eager to see the superstar cameo -- though those whistling for him to take a free kick really ought to value their own health more greatly -- but Santos must surely have seen a way forward. In years gone by Portugal have bored their way deep into tournaments, even winning Euro 2016, in often unwatchable fashion. On the evidence of this takedown of Switzerland, before this an extremely solid defensive outfit, however, they could be much more.
At least his admirers were treated to a fair chunk of Ronaldo's repertoire in a short period of time. He finished superbly past Yann Sommer at his near post but from a comfortably offside position. There was even time to larrup a free kick against the wall, extending his record at World Cups and Euros to 54 shots and one goal (it was a very good, very important one to be fair).
Set against that came a record that was whisked away from him for once, Pepe's towering header meaning he, not Ronaldo, is now the second oldest goalscorer at the World Cup. Ramos looks to have nailed down the starting spot at the point of Portugal's attack whilst Rafael Leao made a rather convincing case to be the first reserve in attack with a beautiful finish for Portugal's sixth.
There is of course an alternative path for Ronaldo here, the same one that was available to him at Manchester United. Even at 37 he is a player who gets into good shooting positions with impressive frequency and who has the physicality to impose himself on tiring defenders. If Portugal need a goal against Morocco on Sunday with 10 minutes to go there would be few better smash glass in case of emergency options than Ronaldo. Yet after what happened against Tottenham, when he refused to enter the match for Manchester United as a substitute, could you blame Santos if he feared the grief that might come with anything that could be perceived as disrespectful by a man who has shown so little to his coaches in recent weeks?
This might be it for Ronaldo at the highest level. So far the only club to have offered him a contract since his early exit from Manchester United is, as CBS Sports revealed last month. There is no clamor at club level for him to stay at the peak of the European game. With Portugal now having moved on from him before he was ready to say goodbye, this greatest of careers is in danger of ending in a whimper.