Rampant Ronaldo sinks brave Swedes
Sweden 2 Portugal 3 (Portugal win 4-2 on agg)
In the end, there really was no contest. Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal will play in the World Cup next summer after the Real Madrid forward showed Zlatan Ibrahimovic the difference between a great player and a very good one.
Greatness is defined by delivering when it truly matters and Ronaldo did just that, outscoring Sweden captain Ibrahimovic in Stockholm with a stunning hat-trick in the Friends Arena.
Ibrahimovic, perhaps second only to Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in world football's current hierarchy, scored twice to give his team hope of a miraculous fightback. But Ronaldo was ruthless in front of goal, with his 31st-minute hat-trick securing his and Portugal's place in Brazil next summer.
While Ibrahimovic was good, Ronaldo was simply on a different level and although the World Cup will miss Sweden's egotistical captain, it would be a much poorer tournament with Ronaldo.
Bad blood between the sides appeared to stem from Ronaldo escaping with just a yellow card for stamping on goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson in Lisbon last Friday, moments before going unpunished for an attempted head-butt on full-back Mikael Lustig.
Perhaps the Swedes harboured a grievance that Ronaldo should have been suspended for the second leg,
Sebastian Larsson's pre-match claim that the appointment of Howard Webb as referee would enable Sweden to tackle harder and not risk the officials being caught out by his 'tricks' was countered by Portugal coach Paulo Bento accusing Johan Elmander of diving in the first leg.
It was all very messy and needless, but the targeting of Ronaldo was clearly a tactic aimed at distracting the highly-strung Portugal captain.
On this occasion, though, it was akin to pulling a tiger's tail, with Ronaldo energised by the negativity during a first half dominated by the Portuguese. Aside from long-range shots from Martin Olsson and Kim Kallstrom, Sweden did not threaten much.
Ronaldo tested Isaksson with a left-foot strike from 30 yards before clipping Joao Pereira's cross over the bar moments later.
With the game heading towards half-time, Hugo Almeida then wasted a golden chance, heading into the side-netting at the far post, after being teed up by Ronaldo.
Despite the inconvenience of playing on a woeful surface that was recently relaid for the ninth time this year, Portugal mastered the conditions better than the hosts, who would have been exasperated by Ibrahimovic's rash volley over the crossbar on the stroke of half-time.
It was Ibrahimovic's first sight of goal in a game-and-a-half and his lazy finish ultimately summed up the difference between him and Ronaldo.
And the former Manchester United forward delivered the first brutal example of his class on 50 minutes when he put Portugal ahead on the night, and 2-0 up on aggregate.
Ronaldo raced clear of Olsson to collect Joao Moutinho's sublime pass and rifled a left foot shot past Isaksson.
Sweden now needed three goals and, after Webb had booked Kallstrom for diving in an attempt to win a penalty, Ibrahimovic pulled one back with a header from Kallstrom's corner.
When Ibrahimovic scored again moments later from a 20-yard free-kick following Miguel Veloso's foul in Elmander, the stadium erupted as hope flooded back into the hosts.
It was now cometh the hour, cometh the man, but it was Ronaldo who stepped up to deliver the killer blow.
Two goals in two minutes, another left-foot strike and a right-foot shot which went in off the crossbar, proved decisive and capped Ronaldo's incredible performance.
Even Ibrahimovic applauded the second goal, but perhaps it was a moment of realisation that, good as he is, he is not in the same bracket as Ronaldo. (© Daily Telegraph, London)