(CNN) — When it comes to performing under pressure and making a good impression at Qatar 2022, Gonçalo Ramos certainly rose to the occasion for Portugal.
Playing in place of Portugal’s all-time leading goalscorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Ramos scored an emphatic hat trick, almost single-handedly sealing his team’s place in the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals with a 6-1 victory over Switzerland in the Lusail Stadium on Tuesday.
Not only was it his first game as a starter in Qatar 2022 and the tournament’s first hat-trick, but Ramos’s three goals in this round of 16 tie put Ronaldo’s record in single Cup matches in a bit of a shadow of the world. Ronaldo has never scored in a match in the decisive rounds of the World Cup, despite having competed in five editions.
So who is this 21-year-old striker nicknamed “Pistoleiro” by fans?
Product of Benfica
Ramos is a product of the famous Benfica academy. Known as the Benfica Campus, the academy helped launch the careers of some of Ramos’ teammates in Portugal, including João Félix and Rúben Dias.
At the academy, around 95 players live there at the same time, and when they move from Under-18 to Under-19, the players move to their own houses or apartments in Lisbon.
“In our opinion, it was the age when they start to lead their own lives,” Rodrigo Magalhães, the Campus’ technical coordinator, told CNN earlier this year.
“Some have girlfriends, some live two or three in an apartment. So they start a life away from the quarry as we need to prepare them to live their lives because we know that a small percentage of players will achieve the goal of playing in the first team or in the major leagues in Europe.
“After those ages, Under-19 and Under-23, normally all of our players who progress [de la cantera] They can play in the first and second division here in Portugal or in other countries, but we need to prepare them if football fails
“The first goal was to develop them as human beings and we need to prepare them with strong academic development as well.”
Ramos joined the Benfica Campus in 2013, enjoying a stellar youth team career for the club and his national team.
He won the national title in the Under-15 and Under-17 categories, as well as finishing as the top scorer at the Under-19 Euro Cup when Portugal finished runner-up to Spain.
In a taste of things to come, Ramos finally made his first-team debut for Benfica in July 2020, marking the occasion with two goals.
Despite the initial promise, it wasn’t until this season that people got used to seeing the name of Gonçalo Ramos in the Benfica line-up.
Following the transfer of Darwin Núñez to Liverpool from the Portuguese club in the summer, Ramos has scored 14 goals in 21 games so far this season in an impressive first half of the campaign for the Lisbon club.
Benfica top the Portuguese league table and are secure in the Champions League round of 16 stage having topped a group that included Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus. Benfica will play against Bruges from Belgium in the round of 16.
Ramos’ work ethic is something that has also earned him the affection of his teammates and fans.
“I like two things about Goncalo. He is a goalscorer. He has incredible intuition. Besides that, he is a great fighter. He never gives up!” Grimaldo, Ramos’ teammate at Benfica, told Marca newspaper.
Ramos’ signature celebration, where he imitates holding two pistols as he runs for the corner flag, has earned him the nickname “Pistoleiro” or the gunslinger.
And it’s been skyrocketing this season.
for your country
In November, Ramos’ performance with Benfica earned him inclusion in coach Fernando Santos’ World Cup squad, despite not having previously played for the Seleção.
Ramos’ debut followed in a cameo appearance from the bench in a 4-0 thrashing of Nigeria just days before Qatar 2022. And, as he has done so many times in his career, Ramos found a way to find the back of the net in that brief appearance.
However, with a national hero playing in his position, Ramos’ appearances in Qatar had been limited before Tuesday. He had only played a total of 10 minutes as a substitute in two of Portugal’s three Group H matches.
Ramos was asked by journalists after Portugal’s win over Switzerland who his role models were. Although he mentioned Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimović, there was a third name that he referred to.
“Cristiano Ronaldo was one of them,” Ramos said.
After the game, Ramos even admitted that his team had surprised him.
“I don’t think in my wildest dreams I would have thought of being in the starting 11 for the knockout phase,” Ramos said, according to Reuters.
He rewarded Santos’ faith in the most emphatic way, with a left foot shot (his so-called weaker foot) past Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer in the 17th minute.
Early in the second half, Ramos scored his second of the night before rolling the ball past Sommer to complete his hat-trick midway before being substituted to applause with 15 minutes remaining.
His trio of goals ensured that Ramos became the first player to score a hat-trick in his first World Cup game since Miroslav Klose against Saudi Arabia in 2002.
The Portuguese media were indulging in the nation’s new star, with one outlet saying “Ramos makes history”, and another calling it “destroying”.
Otávio, a midfielder for Portugal and Porto, Benfica’s rival, also had it in mind. “It’s good that he scores a lot of goals… maybe that’s how he’ll leave Benfica”, said Otávio with a smile.
Ramos’ hat-trick has created a dilemma for Santos: will he put on the Benfica striker on Saturday against Morocco or will he bring back Ronaldo?
One thing is for sure: Ramos’ performance against Switzerland will significantly increase the 21-year-old striker’s transfer value.
Duarte Mendonca contributed to this report.