World Cup play-offs: Chase in vain

This is the pick of the World Cup play-offs - Portugal versus Sweden.

It's a pity that between Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, only one player will make it to Brazil.

Portugal have been perennial chokers on the world stage and I'm backing the Swedes to join the World Cup party next year. Here's why:

PORTUGAL ARE A ONE-MAN TEAM

It is on Cristiano Ronaldo's shoulders that Portugal's World Cup hopes rest. Sparkle, and the Portuguese will go to Brazil.

But if he misfires, as he often does with the national team, then Paulo Bento and his men will likely have to watch the tournament on TV.

The trouble with the Portuguese Peacock is that he is far too inconsistent when he is on international duty, and the accusations that he goes missing on the big stage are not exaggerated.

In the two Finals that he has featured in, he scored in only two games, and both came against minnows - Iran in 2006 and North Korea in 2010.

Coach Bento will take heart from the fact that Ronaldo is in fine form for club and country this season, having fired four hat-tricks. But will he produce the goods against the Swedes?

PORTUGAL'S GOLDEN GENERATION'S HISTORY

Portugal would think that they still have a gifted squad, but they don't.

The Golden Generation of Portuguese football is history.

The current class is simply overrated. Joao Moutinho is no Rui Costa, Pepe can't hold a candle to Fernando Couto, while Nani can't even be mentioned in the same breath as Luis Figo.

What they have is a decent team, but not one that belong to the top tier of world football.

They have Ronaldo, their weapon of mass destruction, but there aren't enough top players to carry the team when he is not at his best.

MEDIOCRE QUALIFYING FORM

Sweden finished second in a group which they were not expected to top, and they eventually ended up eight points behind Germany.

But Portugal dug themselves a hole by failing to win theirs.

There were several disappointing results for Ronaldo and Co in their qualifiers, including two draws with Israel, and one with Northern Ireland.

Their solitary defeat came at the hands of group winners Russia in Moscow. Sweden didn't exactly glitter en route to the play-offs either. The 2-1 away loss to Austria and slender 2-1 away win over Faroe Islands were appalling.

But one match in Berlin demonstrated their fighting spirit.

In October last year, they clawed back from four goals down to draw 4-4 with Germany.

SWEDES' TALISMAN ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC

Portugal have their match-winner in Ronaldo, but Sweden have their own messiah, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The striker, who has won top-flight titles in four different countries, is one of the finest players Sweden have produced.

Unlike Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic has shone for his country more often than not. Last November, he thumped in four goals in a 4-2 friendly win over England at the Friends Arena, which is becoming something of a lucky ground for him since it opened last year.

Three months ago, the Sweden captain netted a hat-trick at the same venue, in a 4-2 friendly victory over fellow Scandinavian team Norway.

With the second leg to be played at the Friends Arena next week, he must be feeling confident against Portugal. The all-rounded Swedes are not all about Ibrahimovic as they have other reliable players such as Johan Elmander, Alexander Kacaniklic, Mikael Lustig and Kim Kallstrom.

What's more important is that they play for each other, unlike the Portuguese who can be quite individualistic at times.


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