They’re planning to “go in a bit harder” on Cristiano Ronaldo in Solna.
In a Monday interview with local media, Sweden midfielder Sebastian Larsson admitted he and his teammates would increase their physicality in an effort to overturn a 1-0 aggregate deficit against Portugal and book their place in next month’s World Cup group-stage draw.
“Howard Webb is used to refereeing where the game is a little more physical,” Larsson said, per the Daily Mail, citing the oversight of a Premier League officiating crew for Tuesday’s match on the outskirts of Stockholm.
“He’s a great referee, too, which is important for such a big game.”
Ironically, Ronaldo is also delighted about the choice of referee.
In previous remarks, the Real Madrid talisman revealed his affection for Webb, saying, “He is English; he has refereed many of my games [in England] and I like him a lot,” per Eurosport.
And on Monday, Ronaldo seemed more than comfortable describing the return fixture as “another battle.”
It’s because he is.
Tall, powerful and lightning-quick, Ronaldo also possesses the intangibles that perhaps took more time than his frame and physical talents to develop.
Especially since being appointed Portugal captain in 2008, he has demonstrated the determination, grit and otherworldly desire to win that have his side just 90 minutes away from booking passage to a fourth successive World Cup finals.
It will take more than hacks, grabs and pullbacks to render him ineffective on Tuesday.
In the first leg of this home-and-away playoff, Ronaldo fought through the challenges of Larsson and Mikael Lustig to deliver a match-winning performance in Lisbon.
He enjoyed seven more touches of the ball than Sweden skipper Zlatan Ibrahimovic, took seven shots to the Paris Saint-Germain striker’s one, and scored the goal that put Portugal in the driver’s seat at the half-time juncture in this series.
In the 82nd minute, and with his marker draped all over him, Ronaldo forced his way into the goalmouth to meet Miguel Veloso’s cross from the right, and as he fell to ground, he managed to nod the ball past Sweden goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson.
In picking up his team and carrying them on his shoulders, Ronaldo reprised a Euro 2012 showing in which his dominance was responsible for wins over the Netherlands—where his brace overturned an early deficit—and the Czech Republic—where his lone goal stood as the match-winner.
Such displays of individual courage and ability are becoming the norm where Ronaldo is concerned, which is why Portugal are likely to punch their ticket to Brazil if it happens again on Tuesday.
Chances are it will.
For while Sweden can plan their all-out assault, it’s unlikely they can take down a giant who has yet to meet a challenge he couldn’t rise to.