Sweden are set to host Portugal on Tuesday, with a World Cup spot on the line. Cristiano Ronaldo led the Portuguese to a 1-0 win in the first leg in Lisbon, but could rival Zlatan Ibrahimovic turn the tie around?
The Sweden-Portugal showdown has received an enormous amount of hype heading into the match at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, and rightly so. Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are two of the best players in the world, but only one will get the chance to travel to Brazil in 2014.
Ronaldo's header with just under ten minutes to play in the first leg gives Portugal the advantage heading into the match. They were the side generally favored to win the tie before it all began, but it is difficult to count Ibrahimovic and Sweden out at home. The imposing Paris St. Germain striker has scored 10 goals in his last eight games at the Friends Arena, including four against England (and yes, that unforgettable bicycle kick was one of them).
Sweden have managed to mount several important comebacks during this World Cup qualification campaign. Germany fans were left with a particularly bitter taste in their mouth after Sweden came back from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 last year in Berlin.
Just as they did ahead of the first match, the teams are playing down the fact that it is a Zlatan-versus-Cristiano showdown.
"For us it's not Ronaldo versus Zlatan, it's Portugal verses Sweden," said Swedish Head Coach Erik Hamren.
Three more spots up for grabs
Three other European playoff matches for the World Cup are taking place Tuesday evening.
France's World Cup hopes hang in the balance after a shock 2-0 loss away to Ukraine in the first match of the tie. Football fans will not only miss out on one of Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic at the World Cup, but possibly the reigning European Player of the Season and favorite for the Ballon d'Or, Franck Ribery. Unfortunately for France, history is not on their side. No team has ever turned around a 2-0 first leg loss in a European World Cup playoff.
After managing to hold onto a 0-0 draw despite going down to 10 men early in the second half, minnows Iceland are facing a tough task away to Croatia in the second leg. Away goals will be the key for Lars Lagerback's surprise contenders.
The first match to kick off Tuesday is Romania against Greece. The latter won the first leg 3-1 and are thus firmly in control of their fate. Although on the back foot, Romania are hoping to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1998. Greece are bidding to qualify for their second consecutive World Cup, and first since longtime coach Otto Rehhagal stepped down in 2010.
Already qualified Germany are in action, against rivals England at London's Wembley in a friendly. Joachim Löw's side were held 1-1 by Italy in Milan on Friday.