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Portugal vs. Sweden: Crucial Keys to Victory for Each Side in World Cup Playoff

COIMBRA, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 15: Fabio Coentrao (R) of Portugal duels for the ball with Ben Payal of Luxembourg during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier match between Portugal and Luxembourg at Estadio Cidade de Coimbra on October 15, 2013 in Coimbra, Portugal.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images
Steven CookContributor IIIJune 25, 2016

It's not very often that two of the world's best players are left fighting for one World Cup bid. That will be the case when Portugal and Sweden take part in a two-leg competition with the winner heading to Brazil.

While the match will certainly be dominated by Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it's a team game, and the most talented squad will emerge and punch their ticket to Brazil for next summer.

Let's break down the two biggest keys for each national team.

 

Portugal

Turn Around Fortune at Home

COIMBRA, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 15:  Portugal supporters cheer on their team during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier match between Portugal and Luxembourg at Estadio Cidade de Coimbra on October 15, 2013 in Coimbra, Portugal.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Ima
David Ramos/Getty Images

It's hard to envision Portugal drawing—or losing—in the opening leg at home and still finding a way to qualify. But if history is any indication, that will happen.

Portugal haven't beaten Sweden at home in seven attempts, and it just so happens that they open the playoff in their home nation on Friday. 

The Portuguese were on a tear late in the World Cup qualifying group stage, but it wasn't enough to catch up to Russia in the standings. Knowing that their hopes for a third straight World Cup are on the line, there's no reason for Portugal to let up on their recent form. 

 

Feed the Beast

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 09:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF celebrates scoring their fifth goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol  at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 9, 2013 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo b
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Any team that features Cristiano Ronaldo on their roster should use him as the staple of their offense. And that's just what Portugal can, and likely will, do to win this match.

Ronaldo is an absolute beast offensively, as he's scored 15 goals in his last 10 appearances with Real Madrid. The incredible thing lies in the fact that those are average numbers for the star. 

Despite his superstar status, he also has a knack for getting his teammates involved when defenders press too hard on him. And even though he makes his money as a scorer, he's an underrated passer as well. Look for usual targets Helder Postiga and Nani to get involved when Ronaldo is forced to pass. 

More than anything, Portugal need to get the ball onto Ronaldo's feet simply because he can put it in the net from virtually anywhere. Whether it's a high-rising header on a corner, a free-kick or a finish from inside the box, Ronaldo is reliable with the ball in scoring situations.

 

Sweden

Keep Momentum from Last Performance

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - NOVEMBER 14:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden celebrates scoring his third goal during the international friendly match between Sweden and England at the Friends Arena on November 14, 2012 in Stockholm, Sweden.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Ge
Michael Regan/Getty Images

A 5-3 loss doesn't seem like something a team would want to build on, but in Sweden's case, that's just what they need.

The Swedes were ousted by that score to Germany on Oct. 15, but the underdogs got out to an early 2-0 lead and produced unheralded success against an elite defense in the loss. If it weren't for a late, three-goal flurry from Andre Schurrle, the match would've ended in Sweden's favor. 

Germany's five goals won't be matched by Portugal, who would need an absolutely historic day from Ronaldo to have that sort of offensive success. But if Sweden can figure out a way to score goals in bunches again, they could walk out of Portugal with a win. 

 

Give Ibrahimovic the Ball in Space

DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 06:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Republic of Ireland battles with Marc Wilson of Sweden during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group C match between Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Aviva Stadium on September 6, 2013 in Dublin, I
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

The statistics don't lie—the more Ibrahimovic touches the ball, the more he scores. 

It's an obvious concept, but undoubtable in his last few appearances with Paris Saint-Germain. He's surpassed 10 shots twice in his last five matches, and he's combined for seven goals in those two games.

In total, he has 10 goals in his last five club appearances on 35 shots.

It's not easy to fork up that much offense to one player—especially when facing such a formidable opponent that boasts a strong defense. But if Sweden want to give themselves the best opportunity to get out of Portugal with a goal in hand, they'll implement that strategy.  

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