Saturday 24 March 2018

Webb must sort out 'diving' and 'tricks'

Mark Ogden

Referee Howard Webb has become embroiled in a war of words between Sweden and Portugal ahead of tonight's World Cup play-off second leg amid accusations of "diving" and "tricks" between the teams.

With a place in Brazil at stake, Sweden midfielder Sebastian Larsson has claimed that Webb's appointment will enable the hosts to "go in a bit harder" when dealing with Portugal talisman Cristiano Ronaldo.

That prompted a barbed response from Portugal coach Paulo Bento, who insisted that Webb was too good a referee to miss the "pretending" and "dive" of Sweden forward Johan Elmander during the first game.

Bento, whose international playing career was overshadowed by a five-month suspension for "physically and verbally intimidating match officials" following the Euro 2000 semi-final defeat against France, insisted he was unfazed by Larsson's comments.

Despite the acrimonious backdrop to tonight's match, Portugal prepared for training at the Friends Arena last night by holding a poignant moment of silence in the centre circle as a mark of respect for the 20-year-old youth international Alex Marques, who collapsed and died on Sunday while playing for third division club Tourizense.

Ronaldo, who had been troubled by a foot problem in the build-up to the first leg, took full part in the session. The former Manchester United winger's 82nd-minute winner in Lisbon means that Portugal face Erik Hamren's team with a narrow advantage in a game billed as 'Ronaldo versus Zlatan' – the Real Madrid star against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden's mercurial captain.

"We respect the Sweden team a lot," Bento said. "They have some exceptional players and Ibrahimovic, who we know has great quality. But it is not only Ibrahimovic, so we will try to control the team as a whole.

"There is no way to stop one player. Sweden, I'm sure, will try to stop us as a team, not just Ronaldo. But if there is special marking on Ronaldo, maybe our other players can find other space on the pitch."

With Ibrahimovic now 32 and with two unfulfilling World Cups behind him – he failed to score in five games during the 2002 and 2006 tournaments – there is a sense of Brazil being his last chance to have an impact on football's biggest stage.


Meanwhile, France must find the perfect blend of calm and madness to overturn a two-goal deficit in their World Cup play-off second leg against Ukraine, according to captain Hugo Lloris.

Les Bleus slumped to a 2-0 defeat in Kiev and face the prospect of missing out on a major tournament for the first time since they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. To overturn the situation, France must produce something out of the ordinary.

"Without madness there will be no success," said goalkeeper Lloris. "But we're going to have to show that we're able to play cleverly, not just go all out."

In the night's other second-leg ties, Romania will attempt to overturn a 3-1 deficit and book a place in the finals for the first time in 16 years as they host Greece, while Croatia and Iceland will face off after a 0-0 draw in the first leg. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Sweden v Portugal,

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