Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal to victory against Sweden in the first leg of the 2014 World Cup playoffs last Friday, but can Ronaldo and the Portuguese take that success on the road as they head to Solna for the second leg?
The Tuesday, November 19, match will determine which of the world's best will miss out on the tourney in Brazil next year, Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The World Cup playoff draw made that prospect a reality when Portugal was paired with Sweden: either Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo will miss out on soccer's grandest global stage in 2014. This is seemingly at odds with the concept of the best footballers in the world testing their talents against each other.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the difference in the 1-0 outing last week, scoring the game's only goal with a late flying header in the game's 82nd minute. Can Cristiano Ronaldo do it again against a tough Swedish defense with one man on their minds (hint: it rhymes with Cristiano Ronaldo). Portugal coach Paolo Bento, believing his team's fortunes do not rise and fall on Cristiano Ronaldo, says the powerful forward doesn't have to. And much like Sweden is preparing for Ronaldo, his team is preparing for Ibrahimovic.
"There is no way to stop a single player, we have to do it collectively," Bento said. "I think Sweden will also try to stop Ronaldo as a team, but what we will try to do is attack well, not only counting on Ronaldo of course.
"If there is a special marking on Ronaldo that may give us an opportunity to score from other players and zones on the pitch."
Cristiano Ronaldo recognizes the impact his goal had on the match, bringing Portugal one step closer to the big stage, but stopped short of guaranteeing victory. Ronaldo says it will be anyone's game and the best he can offer is to show up and do his best.
"It was an important goal and it gave us victory," said Ronaldo.
"We could have scored one or two more goals but this advantage gives us confidence for the second leg."
"Nothing is settled yet. It's 50/50. I cannot promise that we will qualify but I will do all I can to achieve it."
Do you think Cristiano Ronaldo will lead Portugal to the World Cup?