Winners and Losers from World Cup Playoff First Legs
On an engrossing and tense weekend of international football, eight European nations clashed in the first legs of their FIFA World Cup playoff ties, looking to take a giant step on the road to Rio next summer ahead of the decisive return encounters on Tuesday evening.
Meanwhile, a number of African countries managed to seal their places at Brazil 2014. However, who were the real winners and losers from the past three days’ action? Check them out as we move closer to deciding who will advance to next summer's much-anticipated tournament.
LOSER: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
To say that the mercurial forward was anonymous in the Portuguese capital on Friday night would be incorrect. No, Ibra was far worse than that. The 32-year-old turned in an anaemic display just when his country most needed him to stand up and be counted.
Instead, we were treated to a performance from the artist formerly known as Zlatan that was so lacklustre and devoid of inspiration that we remembered why he has often been accused of being a flat-track bully in the past. The Paris Saint-Germain and Sweden international skipper did not even have one touch in the Portuguese box in the entire match.
WINNER: Konstantinos Mitroglou (Greece)
The Olympiakos striker’s vital double either side of halftime has gone a long way toward ensuring that Greece take their place alongside the 31 other qualifiers at next summer’s tournament in South America. The home team saw off Romania 3-1 in Athens on Friday night.
The in-form 25-year-old opened the scoring with a neatly taken volley just before the quarter-hour mark. Then, as the tie hung delicately in the balance with the score 2-1 to the hosts, Mitroglou netted his second on the night, and 19th overall so far in this campaign, to seal Greece’s seventh win in a row.
LOSER: Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon)
The veteran Chelsea striker had been told to stop making up “primary-school tales” by his manager before the decisive second leg of Cameroon’s World Cup playoff with Tunisia on Sunday afternoon, per Daily Mail's Thom Drake.
The 32-year-old had caused quite a stir pre-match, as is so often his want, after bizarrely claiming that his teammates had deliberately not passed to him during the goalless first leg at the Rades Stadium in Tunisia on Tuesday.
“It’s true and regrettable. And when you watched me retreating to the midfield to chase the ball, it’s because I heard of the plot,” said the striker, according to Drake.
“Football is a collective sport. You are obliged to pass the ball even to your worst enemy, especially when he is in a good position to receive it.
“It is time to put all these issues behind us and concentrate on Sunday’s match.”
And despite The Indomitable Lions booking their place at Brazil 2014 with a convincing 4-1 second-leg win in Yaounde, Eto’o had a quiet 90 minutes, as he didn't see the ball very much.
WINNER: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Did anyone really expect CR7 to miss out on next summer’s global showpiece event in South America?
Well, it now looks as though the Real Madrid superstar will be heading to Brazil in 2014 after his brilliant man-of-the-match display against Sweden at the Stadium of Light on Friday night.
The 28-year-old may have left it late to break the deadlock—the playmaker’s winner, a record fourth header in the European qualifying section, came with just eight minutes remaining in Lisbon—but it was the least that he and his teammates deserved on the night.
Now all the skipper needs to do is ensure Portugal finish the job in Stockholm on Tuesday.
LOSER: Didier Deschamps (France)
The man who lifted both the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European championship while captaining les Bleus now may be presiding over the first French team to fail to qualify for the finals of a major tournament since 1993, when Gerard Houllier and Co. lost their final two qualifiers at home to Israel and Bulgaria to miss out on USA '94.
"Opening the scoring gave them more strength and we made a mistake on the penalty,” said the France boss after watching his side go down 2-0 to Ukraine in Kiev on Friday, per The Guardian.
"It's obviously a very bad result. We have to believe [we can go through] but Ukraine are the team in the best position to qualify. We still have 90 minutes at home."
Now, unless the home side can stage a dramatic turnaround at the Stade de France on Tuesday night, then the man for whom the term “water carrier” was invented may very well be carrying the can himself.