Gary Neville has claimed a Man Utd player was more to blame for Portugal’s World Cup exit than Cristiano Ronaldo who he believes is overachieving, not underachieving at present.
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Portugal bowed out of the World Cup at the quarter-final to Morocco. A team containing some of the Premier League’s finest talents including Cancelo, Ruben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Fernandes were expected to go far. But, Morocco proved too tough to crack.
Fernando Santos’ side succumbed to a 1-0 defeat and the Portuguese coach has paid the price with his job. The 68-year-old’s eight-year stint in charge came to an end on Thursday.
Santos made the controversial decision to bench Ronaldo for both of Portugal’s knockout round matches against Switzerland and Morocco.
The call paid off against the Swiss, with his replacement Goncalo Ramos bagging a hattrick. However, Ramos was ineffective against Morocco and Ronaldo was unable to turn the tide when called on from the bench.
Now, speaking to Sky Sports, Gary Neville insisted Ronaldo is not to blame for Portugal’s elimination, quite the opposite. He stressed what Ronaldo is doing at age 37 is in fact an overachievement.
Neville also pointed the finger of blame at two players from Manchester who should’ve known better in the failed comeback attempt late on.
“I wouldn’t class it as an underachievement from Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Neville. “I think it’s an overachievement what he’s doing at the age of 37.”
“It’s just the way in which it ended with him being out of the team and obviously at the end [Ronaldo in tears after the final whistle].
“I thought Portugal were really poor in that last half hour against Morocco. “You look at how to chase a football match and this was nothing to do with Ronaldo, I thought [the failed comeback] was more to with Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes and how they played in the game.
“They were so deep down the sides of Morocco’s team and found themselves having to play impossible passes or play sideways and recycle the ball.
“You think about living in the spaces where you might get the ball less in pockets and being patient and waiting for your defenders to serve it into you.
“They have good defenders back there that can deliver the ball forwards, so I just thought the tactics of how they chased the game at the end were wrong.
“I was more disappointed with Portugal as a collective than with Cristiano.”
Neville’s criticism of Fernandes appears a little harsh on the surface. Indeed, the Man Utd playmaker was statistically Portugal’s best player by a wide margin according to FotMob.
Fernandes notched an overall rating of 7.70, with Portugal’s next best Otavio with a 7.31.
Fernandes only misplaced eight of his 58 attempted passes, created three chances and also hit the woodwork.
Of course, football is played on the field and the data only tells one part of the bigger story. But from a purely statistical standpoint at least, the 28-year-old appears to be copping unnecessary flak from Neville.