VIDEO Portugal 1-0 Sweden: Highlights; Ronaldo Goal Gives Portugal Edge After World Cup Playoff First Leg

 @JasonLeMiere
on November 15 2013 4:38 PM
Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates putting Portugal in front against Sweden. Reuters

Cristiano Ronaldo’s late header gave Portugal a priceless lead to take to Sweden for the second leg of their World Cup playoff. The first leg of the eagerly anticipated clash at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz was heading for a goalless draw and advantage Sweden before Ronaldo’s intervention eight minutes from the end.

It was a match in which both its stars, Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, failed to spark into life and neither did the other 20 players on the pitch in what was a forgettable encounter. After Sweden had the better of the openings in the first period, they became increasingly happy to sit back and try and walk away with the scores all even ahead of next Tuesday’s return in Solna. Portugal created precious little, but, from Miguel Veloso’s cross, Ronaldo was able to get in front of Martin Olsson to head home. Just minutes later Ronaldo put another header against the crossbar, but his Portugal side remain favorites to make it to Brazil. 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s late header gave Portugal a priceless lead to take to Sweden for the second leg of their World Cup playoff. The first leg of the eagerly anticipated clash at Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz was heading for a goalless draw and advantage Sweden before Ronaldo’s dramatic intervention eight minutes from the end.

It was a match in which, for the most part, both its stars, Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, failed to spark into life and neither did the other 20 players on the pitch in what was a largely forgettable encounter. After Sweden had the better of the openings in the first half, they became increasingly happy to sit back with the aim of walking away with the scores all even ahead of next Tuesday’s return in Solna. Portugal created precious little, but, from Miguel Veloso’s cross, Ronaldo was able to get in front of Martin Olsson to head home. Just minutes later Ronaldo put another header against the crossbar, but his Portugal side remain favorites to make it to Brazil.

There were chances at both ends in a frantic opening that ultimately provided a false impression of what was to follow. The first opportunity fell Portugal’s way when Raul Meireles made one of his few positive contributions by playing a first-time pass through the Swedish back line for Joao Moutinho, but, despite going past goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, the Monaco midfielder could only out his shot into the side netting.

Sweden almost immediately made Portugal pay, but from Mikael Lustig’s good cross to the near post, Johan Elmander couldn’t get enough purchase on his volley at full stretch and the ball went harmlessly past the far post.

While Portugal continued to have plenty of the ball, it was Sweden who posed the bigger threat for the rest of the period. Ibrahimovic was having little impact, but his clever step over on the edge of the box enabled a low shot by Sebastian Larsson that required Rui Patricio to be alert to turn the ball wide. Portuguese hearts were really in their mouths midway through the half when Kim Kallstrom’s left-footed free-kick from just outside the area went inches wide of post.

Swedish coach Erik Hamren will surely have been delighted with how things had gone at half time, but his side became far too passive after the break. Ibrahimovic became an isolated figure, struggling to thrive on the meager service that came his way as his side sat back and showed little or no ambition.

Portugal enjoyed plenty of the ball in the opposition half but were sorely lacking in invention. Their strategy of constantly looking to get the ball quickly out wide was clear but was paying little dividend. The closest they came to a goal was when the disappointing Helder Postiga competed for the ball in the six-yard box with the Swedish goalkeeper and the ball had to eventually be cleared off the line.

In the end, though, Sweden paid for their listlessness. Ronaldo showed tremendous bravery and once again why he is the most complete player in the world to put his head where Olsson had his foot and direct a header past Isaksson. His tremendous leaping ability was on show shortly after but from another left-wing cross his header came straight back off the woodwork.

Portugal would have loved to have had a bigger advantage ahead of the second leg, while Sweden will perhaps reflect they did well to come away just a single goal behind after their second half display. Ibrahimovic and his teammates will be all too aware that far more will be required if they are to overturn their deficit and make it to the World Cup.  

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