Ronaldo the hat-trick hero as Portugal see off Sweden with a late rush
Sweden 2 Portugal 3 (Portugal win 4-2 on agg)
Published 19/11/2013 | 21:59
CRISTIANO Ronaldo struck a devastating hat-trick to fire Portugal into the World Cup finals at the expense of Sweden and win his highly-anticipated duel with fellow superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Ronaldo earned Portugal a narrow lead with a late strike in the play-off first leg and the Real Madrid ace was his side's hero again with goals in the 50th, 77th and 79th minutes to seal a 4-2 aggregate win.
The Portugal captain's last two goals came after Sweden had threatened to turn the tie on its head when, after trailing 2-0 overall, they battled back to 2-2 thanks to two goals in four minutes from talisman Ibrahimovic.
With 15 minutes to go it was anyone's game, but two more clinical finishes from Ronaldo settled the contest in Portugal's favour and means the Euro 2012 semi-finalists will be gracing Brazil next summer while Sweden skipper Ibrahimovic and his team-mates will be staying at home.
Portugal bossed the majority of the first half at the Friends Arena in Stockholm and home keeper Andreas Isaksson did well to keep out Bruno Alves' downward header in the 15th minute before Ronaldo took centre-stage.
The £80million man had three attempts in five minutes just after the half-hour mark before setting up Hugo Almeida for a great chance that the Besiktas striker headed into the side-netting.
At that point it was all Portugal, but Sweden briefly threatened when Ibrahimovic laid the ball off to Kim Kallstrom, whose long-range effort was well-struck but too close to Rui Patricio.
The half then ended with the two superstars on the pitch missing reasonable half-chances, with Ronaldo skewing an effort horribly wide before Ibrahimovic volleyed over at the other end.
Both of those two players were heavily involved again as the second half started in barnstorming fashion.
Ibrahimovic showed great strength and determination to poke the ball back to Sebastian Larsson on the edge of the six-yard box and it needed a vital block from Patricio to keep the score goalless.
Moments later, Portugal took the lead with a blistering counter-attack.
Joao Moutinho's brilliant through-ball found the run of Ronaldo and he drilled a left-footed shot past Isaksson.
That left Sweden needing three goals to keep their World Cup dream alive, but Ibrahimovic gave them a lifeline when he easily held off the challenge of Alves to head home Kallstrom's 67th-minute corner.
Seconds later Sweden felt they should have had a penalty when Kallstrom went crashing in the area under a challenge from Joao Pereira, but referee Howard Webb booked the home midfielder for diving.
Nevertheless, all the momentum was now with Sweden and three minutes later they won a free-kick right on the edge of the area.
It was tailor-made for Ibrahimovic and he did not disappoint, the Paris St Germain striker drilling a low shot through the wall and under Patricio to level up the scores at 2-2 on aggregate.
Sweden suddenly looked favourites, but Ronaldo showed why he is rated as the leading player on the planet alongside Lionel Messi as he wrestled back the initiative with two superb finishes and that proved decisive.
The first saw him latch on to Almeida's through-ball and fire another left-footed shot beyond Isaksson, and then two minutes later he completed his hat-trick - his fifth for club and country in the last three months - when he rounded the Sweden goalkeeper and stroked into the gaping net.