Cristiano Ronaldo has proven to be among the most clutch footballers on the planet time and again, most recently reminding us of that fact by powering Portugal to a 1-0 win over Sweden in the first leg of the two nations' World Cup 2014 qualifying playoff.
Ronaldo's 82nd-minute strike proved to be the difference but also sent a message that neither he nor Portugal will be denied in their bid to qualify for Brazil next summer.
More so than Ronaldo's unsurpassed skill set, though, his ability to show up and deliver in the big moments is what will truly propel Portugal in the second leg and moving forward.
While Portugal aren't out of the woods just yet, they should be considered the favorite to qualify when they match up with Sweden again in Stockholm on Tuesday. After all, the Iberians dominated possession in Friday's opening leg and out-shot their Scandinavian counterparts 19-6 behind a game-high seven shots from their fearless leader, Ronaldo, per WhoScored.com.
Portugal also earned 14 corners to just four for Sweden, finding quality scoring chances much easier to come by.
Still, without Ronaldo's well-played header in the waning moments, Portugal would not only still be deadlocked with Sweden heading to Stockholm, but they would have suffered a major blow to their confidence. Had Ronaldo's header not found a way past the goalkeeper, Sweden would still be level on aggregate despite having been completely out-played.
Instead, Portugal now possess a winning formula and an invaluable individual talent capable of lifting them at the last minute. However, if Ronaldo is more fortunate than he was in the first leg when he struck woodwork, Portugal may not require a late charge in order to prevail.
Although he wasn't sensational by any means, Ronaldo was his usual aggressive self on Friday—evidenced by his yellow card—and a similar approach on Tuesday is sure to result in a much more comfortable victory for Portugal.
While he didn't come close to playing his best match in the first leg, his late-game heroics once again stole the show and displayed an unsurpassed level of poise that has Portugal destined for a World Cup 2014 berth.
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