Cristiano Ronaldo relegated to supporting role as Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix thrive for Portugal

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Bruno Fernandes and Joao Felix will look to take another step out of the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo when Portugal face Morocco tomorrow.

Ahead of their quarter-final, Ronaldo is still the talk of the town in Qatar. The Portuguese Football Federation yesterday denied a report in Portugal that Ronaldo threatened to leave the World Cup after he was benched for Tuesday’s win over Switzerland.

After they released a statement, Ronaldo tweeted: “A group too close to be broken by outside forces. A nation too brave to let itself be frightened by any adversary. A team in the truest sense of the word, which will fight for the dream until the end. Believe with us.”

But with Ronaldo now seemingly relegated to a supporting role, Portugal look ready to move on without him — and both Fernandes and Felix seem liberated.

Alongside hat-trick hero Goncalo Ramos, who is expected to keep his place against Morocco, Felix and Fernandes starred in the 6-1 last-16 victory over Switzerland.

Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Bernardo Silva all starred in Portugal’s win over Switzerland (AFP via Getty Images)
Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix and Bernardo Silva all starred in Portugal’s win over Switzerland (AFP via Getty Images)

Portugal head coach Fernando Santos has spoken of his desire to have “fluidity” in attack, and Felix and Fernandes bring just that. They both play out wide, but drift inside to find space and are given freedom to cause problems.

Fernandes is enjoying a dream World Cup and has established himself as Portugal’s main man. He has been directly involved in five goals, which is the most by a Portuguese player at a World Cup since Eusebio and Jose Torres in 1966.

If Portugal are to navigate their way past Morocco and into a semi-final with England or France, then the Manchester United midfielder is likely to be key. Felix will play a crucial role, too. He has fallen out of favour at Atletico Madrid, clashing with manager Diego Simeone over the style of the team.

For Portugal, it is a different story, and his two assists against Switzerland showed why clubs will be queuing up to sign him in January after he was put up for sale. There is plenty of intrigue around where Ronaldo will move next, but the race for Felix is just as interesting and will be far more competitive.

With Felix and Fernandes in full flow, Portugal are one of the best attacking teams left in the tournament, with Bernardo Silva further evidence of their quality.

Bruno Fernandes is enjoying a dream World Cup and has established himself as Portugal’s main man

Standing in their way tomorrow is the best defence at this World Cup. Morocco have conceded just one goal in four matches so far — an own-goal from defender Nayef Aguerd — and they impressively shut out Spain before beating them on penalties in the last 16.

Head coach Walid Regragui was only hired in August, and at the time was called “avocado head” by unimpressed pundits. Regragui, though, has proved the doubters wrong and is the first African coach to lead a country to the quarter-finals of a World Cup.

Against Spain, his side had just 23 per cent possession. “We had agreed not to take possession — not out of fear,” Regragui said. “We are humble enough to say that we are not yet France, Germany or England, to compete with them in terms of possession.”

FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar | Best Images and Moments

Morocco’s Achraf Dari with Walid Cheddira and teammates celebrate after the match as Morocco progress to the semi finals (REUTERS)
Morocco’s Achraf Dari with Walid Cheddira and teammates celebrate after the match as Morocco progress to the semi finals (REUTERS)
Portugal’s forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final (AFP via Getty Images)
Portugal’s forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo reacts during the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final (AFP via Getty Images)
Argentina players celebrate after they won on penalty shoot-out the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final (AFP via Getty Images)
Argentina players celebrate after they won on penalty shoot-out the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final (AFP via Getty Images)
Brazil’s forward #10 Neymar (R) si consoled by Brazil’s forward #11 Raphinha after their team lost the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final (AFP via Getty Images)
Brazil’s forward #10 Neymar (R) si consoled by Brazil’s forward #11 Raphinha after their team lost the Qatar 2022 World Cup quarter-final (AFP via Getty Images)
Morocco players lift up goalkeeper Bono after beating Spain on penalties to reach the quarter-finals for the first time (REUTERS)
Morocco players lift up goalkeeper Bono after beating Spain on penalties to reach the quarter-finals for the first time (REUTERS)
Goncalo Ramos celebrates a hat-trick for Portugal in the last-16 (REUTERS)
Goncalo Ramos celebrates a hat-trick for Portugal in the last-16 (REUTERS)
Brazil players make tribute to Pele after reports of his ill health (AFP via Getty Images)
Brazil players make tribute to Pele after reports of his ill health (AFP via Getty Images)
Croatia defeat Japan in the first penalty shootout of the 2022 World Cup (Getty Images)
Croatia defeat Japan in the first penalty shootout of the 2022 World Cup (Getty Images)
Jude Bellingham relaxes after his star dislay against Senegal (The FA via Getty Images)
Jude Bellingham relaxes after his star dislay against Senegal (The FA via Getty Images)
Aziz Behich comes within inches of completing an unlikely Australia comeback against Argentina in the last-16 (Getty Images)
Aziz Behich comes within inches of completing an unlikely Australia comeback against Argentina in the last-16 (Getty Images)
Vincent Aboubakar celebrates a famous winner for Cameroon against Brazil (AFP via Getty Images)
Vincent Aboubakar celebrates a famous winner for Cameroon against Brazil (AFP via Getty Images)

Morocco will employ a similar strategy against Portugal and try to hit them on the counter. They boast a dangerous attack, with Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech inspired and Sofiane Boufal looking unrecognisable from the player who flopped at Southampton.

Regragui insists he is no magician, but Morocco’s run to the last eight has been one of the stories of this tournament. They now have the chance to become the first African side to reach the semi-finals.

Regragui, though, is aiming higher. “Why not dream about winning the World Cup? he said. “As African teams, we need to set this objective.”