Ronaldo edges battle with Ibrahimovic as Portugal take slender lead
Published 15/11/2013 | 22:04
Cristiano Ronaldo once again proved himself to be the man for the big occasion as he emerged victorious from his shoot-out with Zlatan Ibrahimovic to give Portugal the upper hand in their World Cup play-off battle with Sweden.
The bout of the two heavyweights actually proved to be a damp squib for 80 minutes as the two stars failed to shine, before the Portugal captain piped up to secure a 1-0 win with eight minutes left; his 63rd goal of the year.
A slender advantage may not be too great heading to the return leg on Tuesday but after a fairly dire night aside from the goal, it could prove to be invaluable.
The Real Madrid man had grown increasingly frustrated as his side laboured prior to the goal, and was booked for a silly late tackle on goalkeeper Peter Isaksson.
He channelled his angst in the right way, though, and would have added a second not long after were it not for the bar.
After all the hype surrounding Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic it was perhaps typical that they were largely subdued, with neither involved in the early exchanges.
Joao Moutinho spurned Portugal's first chance after five minutes, with Ronaldo nothing more than a bystander.
The Monaco man timed his run on to Raul Meireles' pass to perfection but, after doing the hard part and rounding the advancing Isaksson, he went too far away from the goal and hit the left side-netting.
Sweden roared straight back and Mikael Lustig's cross from the right was met by a stretching Johan Elmander, but as he fell he failed to control the ball and poked across the goal.
Ibrahimovic first reared his head in the 20th minute as a slick dummy allowed Elmander's pass to find Seb Larsson who unleashed a strike which Rui Patricio dealt with.
Sweden continued to make the running, but from distance, and Kim Kallstrom fizzed a free-kick just past the post, but with neither side able to mount any genuine pressure, half-time was a blessed relief.
Whatever was said at the break had an impact on Portugal who went the closest of either side within four minutes of the restart.
A cross from the left caused chaos as it fell to Fabio Coentrao who touched inside to Helder Postiga. Isaksson came off his line to try and snuff out the danger but Postiga remained in possession and was blocked on the line by Lustig. Ronaldo then swooped on the loose ball but could only hit skywards.
The close shaves continued and a cross from the right - destined for a waiting Ronaldo - was cut out at the near post, while Isaksson was glad to look up from the ground and see the Postiga header he had got nowhere near had flashed over.
Postiga's number was up soon after and Hugo Almeida was sent on in the pursuit of goals, before the local fans became enraged as Ronaldo was booked for what was deemed a late tackle on Isaksson on a follow-through.
Misery turned to joy with eight minutes to go, though, as Ronaldo proved himself the man for the job as his goal put the home side ahead.
Miguel Veloso crossed from the left and, as Isaksson dallied at his near post, Ronaldo got ahead of Martin Olsson to head in, low, from six yards.
A second would have followed but he nodded against the bar, but a rousing ovation at the final whistle showed that his work was sufficient.