The marquee match-up of the final round of UEFA World Cup qualifiers sees Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal square off against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden in the first game of a two game playoff series in Lisbon on Friday, with the return two days later in Stockholm. The winner, of course, qualifies for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
"It's fantastic for all soccer fans,” Sweden coach Erik Hamren said of the head-to-head clash between the Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain stars. “They are two world-class players. It's sad that one of them is going to miss the World Cup in the summer, but it's going to be really exciting. They are two players who can do the little extra and win the game for their country. But I'm sure it's going to be Zlatan who does that for us."
For Portugal coach Paulo Bento, it is a “finely balanced playoff,” between two of Europe’s top teams. "It's going to be very complicated and competitive, there is no favorite between the two teams.” Portugal is currently ranked 14th in the world by FIFA while Sweden is ranked 25th.
Nevertheless, Sweden’s Hamren feels his team has the edge: "It was strange. They were the highest-ranked and probably the toughest team to meet but I had a good feeling when I saw Portugal-Sweden. I hope it was the right feeling. We'll see."