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Sports

Ronaldo rallies Portugal, Ukraine dent France's World Cup hopes

Cristiano Ronaldo boosted Portugal's chances of reaching Brazil with a late goal against Sweden. Meanwhile, France saw their hopes of a place in the 2014 World Cup dented after a 2-0 first-leg away defeat to Ukraine.

At Benfica's Stadium of Light, Cristiano Ronaldo outshone Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scoring late to give Portugal a 1-0 win on home turf over Sweden.

The Real Madrid player placed a diving header past Swedish keeper Andreas Isaksson in the 82nd minute of the game, thanks to a well-placed left-wing cross from Miguel Veloso.

The former Manchester United star almost made it 2-0 only moments later, when his header bounced off the crossbar.

While Portugal were unable to widen the margin even further, the goal gives Portugal something of a cushion for the return match in Stockholm next Tuesday.

"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."

Misery for Les Bleus

Perhaps the biggest shock of the night was at the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv, where France sunk to a 2-0 defeat to their Ukrainian hosts.

FIFA Ballon d'Or nominee, Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery was tightly marked, while Ukraine secured two second-half goals courtesy of Roman Zozulia in the 61st minute and Andriy Yarmolenko. Yarmolenko scored from the penalty spot with eight minutes left after Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny brought down Zozulia in the area.

While the defeat raised the prospect of France missing their first major tournament since 1994, France goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris said he remained optimistic.

"We're not beaten yet, there's always hope," said Lloris. "We know we have enough quality to turn it around."

Of the eight European teams still competing for a place, France - who meet Ukraine in Paris next Tuesday - are now, at least in terms of their first-leg deficit, the worst-placed to make the finals.

Icelandic dream intact

In Reykjavik, a 10-man Iceland side kept alive their slim hopes of advancing after they held on for a 0-0 draw with Croatia. The two sides meet in Zagreb next Tuesday.

A win for the Nordic side would make Iceland the smallest ever country in terms of population to qualify for the World Cup finals.

Greek hopes were lifted In Piraeus, where two goals by Olympiakos striker Kostas Mitroglou helped the home side to a 3-1 win over Romania. The visitors had equalized in the 19th minute, five minutes after Mitroglou's opener. PAOK forward Dimitris Salpingidis reopened the Greek lead on a minute later, with Mitroglou sealing the former European champions' victory in the 66th.

While Germany and Italy drew in a 0-0 friendly at Milan's San Siro stadium, there was disappointment for England in a home friendly against Chile. The South Americans netted twice through Barcelona striker Alexis Sanchez.

In other friendly matches, Russia were held 1-1 at home by Serbia, while South Korea beat Switzerland 2-1.

rc/lw (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)