(Sporting Alert) — Two of the world’s best players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will lock-horns on Friday night in the battle to see who will progress to next year’s FIFA World Cup finals.
Ronaldo will lead Portugal in a highlighted European World Cup qualifying playoffs clash with Ibrahimovic’s Sweden as both nations seek to secure that vital win that would earn them trip to Brazil next summer.
The speedy and tricky Ronaldo has scored 16 goals for Real Madrid in La Liga so far this season and 33 overall from 26 games, while Ibrahimovic has 22 goals from 23 games this season.
A very tight battle is expected, but with the likes of Ronaldo, Nani and Pepe…among others, Portugal seems to be the starting favourites.
“The Portuguese players play in bigger leagues and better teams than our players,” Sweden coach Erik Hamrén said on uefa.com.
Sunderland midfielder Sebastian Larsson added: “Portugal have to be favourites in anybody’s eyes.”
Portugal coach Paulo Bento, however, doesn’t see things that way and warned his players that Sweden is a “very well-organised and quality team.”
“Sweden are a quality team, very well-organised and they had a knack of reacting to adversity during qualification,” Bento was quoted as saying.
“They were losing in the Republic of Ireland [but won 2-1], they were losing 4-0 in Germany [but drew 4-4] and they were losing against Austria [a 2-1 home win].
“Therefore, they never give up and will force us to play with very high levels of concentration.”
Bento moved to dismiss suggestions that either team will start as favourites.
“There are no favourites,” he said. “They are strong physically, not only at set pieces but also in terms of playing direct football because they have two tall and talented players in attack [Zlatan Ibrahimović and Johan Elmander].
“It will be a very balanced tie, in which we should be constantly focused because any mistake could cost us. The first match is at home so we will try to play well and win.”