Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic Face off for 2014 World Cup Place
The 2014 FIFA World Cup playoff draw for the UEFA zone has thrown up a true "clash of the titans" encounter between Portugal and Sweden.
While France square off against Ukraine, Greece tussle Romania and Iceland tackle Croatia, all eyes will be on Cristiano Ronaldo's charges as they lock horns with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and company.
It's something of a nightmare scenario for both sides, as Portugal's suspect defence won't relish taking on Zlatan, while Erik Hamren will now be tasked with shutting down a Ballon d'Or winner.
Either prospect probably shades facing up to Franck Ribery's France, but both managers will be looking at the draw longingly, wondering why they couldn't have landed Romania instead.
Portugal vs Sweden: Head-to-head record (last 4 meetings) pic.twitter.com/aeipwrCjyo— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 21, 2013
Sweden will enter the game the more confident outfit. After being paired with Germany in Group C of qualifying, Hamren will have known (realistically) that the playoffs were the only probable route to next summer's showpiece event.
They stood up well against Die Mannschaft in the two matches played, taking one point and scoring a remarkable seven goals, but conceded nine and ended up eight points shy of the top.
On the other hand, Portugal drew Russia in Group F and would have expected to qualify first. The Seleccao never do anything the easy way, though, and Paulo Bento oversaw some sorry, limp performances early on.
Draws against Northern Ireland and Israel and a defeat to Russia were damaging, and Fabio Capello's men finished a point above them and are already booking flights.
Remarking to Sky Sports, Bento was quick to deny Sweden are a one-match team, stating "Ibrahimovic is an imposing figure, but the Swedes are more than that, they are good collectively."
Hamren simply seemed relieved he had a world-class player to lean on, suggesting "they do something extra to change the game."
The playoffs are a lottery, but Hamren will look to play on Portugal's jitters as early as possible. That means attempting to lock Ronaldo out of the game by double-marking him and feeding Zlatan as often as possible early on.
Portugal's defensive line, usually Bruno Alves and Pepe, has been far from its sturdy self over the course of qualifying. In turn, it will seek out Ronaldo to take an early hold of the game.
It's a battle of two star players trying in earnest to haul their beloved nations to Brazil next summer, and it's going to be a fantastic showdown. The last two meetings between the sides have produced nine goals, and the two sides combined for 39 during the qualification process.
Perhaps the only downside to a head-to-head of this magnitude is that one of them won't go to the World Cup.
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