UEFA Qualifying Rewind: Ronaldo wins showdown vs. Ibrahimovic; France digs out of deep hole; and more

Cristiano Ronaldo Portugal (Getty Images)

By CAITLIN MURRAY

Cristiano Ronaldo again proved Tuesday why he is one of the greatest to ever play the game, much to the chagrin of Sweden and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

In a battle of Ronaldo vs. Ibrahimovic, it was one-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo who lifted his nation to victory. Ronaldo enjoyed an impressive hat-trick performance that helped Portugal punch its ticket to the 2014 World Cup and delivered a final blow to Sweden’s run for Brazil.

Portugal entered the second leg of the series ahead 1-0, but Sweden – and especially Ibrahimovic – seemed poised to rectify the deficit.

After a scoreless first half, Ronaldo opened on a breakaway in the 52nd, beating three defenders and finishing far post. But Sweden quickly found their footing.

In the 69th minute, Ibrahimovic took advantage of poor defending in the air on a corner, putting a header into the net. Three minutes later, the Paris Saint-Germain forward sent a low free kick through the wall for another, pulling Sweden ahead 2-1 in the match and one goal away from taking the lead on aggregate.

But Ronaldo came roaring back to finish the Swedes swiftly and perhaps make a case for a second Ballon d’Or trophy. In the 78th minute, the Real Madrid striker mirrored his previous goal, beating defenders and sending a left-footed shot to the far post, before again outrunning the Swedish back line for his third of the day a minute later.

The match was a memorable clash of two of the world’s top players, to be sure, but only Portugal is off to Brazil to compete for the World Cup while the Swedes will have to wait for 2018 – likely without Ibrahimovic, who will be 36 then.

The other remaining UEFA World Cup qualifying berths were clinched on Tuesday. Here’s a recap of those matches:

FRANCE DEFIES ODDS AND SURGES BACK IN SECOND LEG TO PUT UKRAINE AWAY

In a stunning comeback, France overturned a two-goal first-leg deficit with a 3-0 thrashing of Ukraine to secure a ticket to Brazil.

Mamadou Sakho started things off for France, scoring his first international goal by pouncing on a deflected shot and returning the ball from close range in the 22nd minute. Twelve minutes later, Karim Benzema scored on a shot deflected into his path, stroking it to the bottom corner.

To add insult to injury for the Ukrainians, Yevhen Khacheridi was carded off in the 47th, forcing them to play with 10 men. France took advantage, forcing an own-goal by Ukraine’s Oleg Gusev that pushed Les Bleus ahead on aggregate for the first time in the series.

There was little Ukraine could do after that and France avoided the embarrassment of possibly missing the World Cup for the first time in two decades.

ICELAND MISSES FIRST TRIP TO WORLD CUP AT HANDS OF CROATIA

The underdog of UEFA’s World Cup qualifiers made an impressive run for a berth to Brazil. But alas, Iceland’s first trip to the world’s largest stage wasn’t meant to be as Croatia handed them a comfortable 2-0 loss to dash the island country’s hopes.

Mario Mandzukic opened scoring in the 27th minute with a back-post finish giving Croatia the lead for the first time in the series after a scoreless first leg. Mandzukic was then carded off before the second half, seemingly giving Iceland a fighting chance, but it was all for naught.

Two minutes into the closing 45 minutes, Croatia’s Darijo Srna scored on a difficult angle to all but end Iceland’s hopes.

With their win, Croatia qualified for a World Cup for the first time since 2006.

BUOYED BY FIRST-LEG BLOWOUT, GREECE ADVANCES WITH DRAW OVER ROMANIA

Greece qualified for their third World Cup, drawing 1-1 with Romania on Tuesday after their 3-1 first-leg victory.

Greece set the tone in the first half when Kostas Mitroglou brought down a chip pass and slotted it past Romania’s goalkeeper.

Romania seemed to enter the second half with new resolve, but their only goal of the night came from a botched clearance that turned into an own goal by Greece’s Vasileios Torosidis. Romania rallied late, creating chances, but the Greek back line was up to task of preserving their two-goal aggregate lead.

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What do you think of the epic Ronaldo vs. Ibrahimovic showdown? Impressed with the character France showed vs. Ukraine? How do you see Greece and Croatia faring next summer in Brazil?

Share your thoughts below.

This entry was posted in European Soccer, Featured, International Soccer, World Cup Qualifying. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to UEFA Qualifying Rewind: Ronaldo wins showdown vs. Ibrahimovic; France digs out of deep hole; and more

  1. bryan says:

    love sweden, but Ibra is a punk. glad he missed out. yelling “PUTA” at Pepe after scoring the first goal was so classless. i mean, this was his reason for not liking Gooch:

    “In his autobiography, Ibrahimovic wrote: ‘I had issues with Oguchi Onyewu, a guy in my team. He was an American the size of a house, and I told a mate in the squad: ‘Something serious is gonna happen. I just feel it. Onyewu resembled a heavyweight boxer. He was nearly 6ft 5in and weighed over 15 stone, but he couldn’t handle me. The next time he got the ball in training, I rushed towards him and jumped up with my feet and studs out in front — the worst type of tackle. But he saw me and leapt out of the way. As we both crashed to the ground, my first thought was: ‘S**t! I’ve missed!’ As I got up and walked away I felt a blow to my shoulder. Not a good idea, Oguchi Onyewu. I headbutted him, and we flew at each other. We wanted to tear each other limb from limb. It was brutal. We were rolling around, punching and kneeing each other. We were crazy and furious — it was like life and death. Afterwards, the weirdest thing happened. Onyewu started praying to God with tears in his eyes, making the sign of the cross. This felt like a provocation, and I got more furious. I was stopped by my team-mates, and I suppose that was a good thing. It could have turned out nasty. All the time, I was thinking: ‘S***, my chest hurts,’ so we had it checked out. I’d broken a rib in the fight.”

    this, in addition to kicking Cassano in the face. and kicking his teammate, Rodney Strasser, in training.

    • Maykol says:

      That’s why everybody loves zlatan. And don’t be so sensitive about calling out pepe. Do you honestly think players never talk shit to each other during games?

      • bryan says:

        it’s also why people hate him. sensitive? come on dude. i could care less about Pepe or talking sh!t. this is beyond that. he’s just a dbag. him talking sh!t to Kljestan, funny. purposely attacking teammates. not funny. screaming at the top of your lungs, “PUTA” into the face of an opponent. classless and, for me, more than just talking sh!t. just my take.

        • KingGoogleyEye says:

          Okay, but he did yell it at Pepe, who always deserves it.

          • bryan says:

            like i said, Pepe isn’t a saint, but this is about Ibra.

            • KingGoogleyEye says:

              bryan: At least he showed the courtesy of cursing in Pepe’s native tongue ;)

              I’m just saying that mentioning Pepe in the list of Zlatan’s sins is a huge distraction—like digging up evidence that he once urinated on Stalin’s grave. I actually liked Zlatan until the intentionally dirty/dangerous attack on a teammate—or anyone for that matter (see also: De Jong). Why? Because unlike so many stars (Ronaldo, Arjen Robbin, etc.) he doesn’t flop and dive. A whole lot of sins and arrogance will be forgiven for any player who avoids simulation.

    • RB says:

      Love to watch Ibra play. Does things nobody else does.

      • bryan says:

        not going to disagree with that. the guy is incredible, certainly not trying to discredit his ability. just saying, out of CR or Ibra, I’m very glad it’s CR.

        • RB says:

          I appreciate CR7’s abilities. I don’t appreciate the frequency with which he goes prone for little reason. Ibra’s got him rather well beat in that department.

          Will be interesting to see if they meet again in CL play…

    • THomas says:

      You’re upset because somebody called out Pepe? HAHAHAAH

    • Mason says:

      Sounds like Gooch got the best of Ibra.

      • bryan says:

        yup. which is great given his teammate purposefully went into him with two feet, studs up tackle, “the worst kind,” according to Ibra himself. he was almost seems proud of it…

      • KingGoogleyEye says:

        I laugh at how Zlatan worded it though, “I’d broken a rib in the fight.” No Zlatan, *you* didn’t break a rib, *Gooch* broke the rib.

  2. RB says:

    Interesting to hear the Univision announcers today debating whether Benzema’s goal or Henry’s handball in the equivalent game last cycle would give more fuel to the folks who complain about FIFA favoring France…

    • jones says:

      well, for what it’s worth, Benzema had already (somewhat awkwardly) put one in earlier in the match that was incorrectly called offside.

  3. Maykol says:

    Sad to see zlatan not in the cup, but happy for my boys Ronaldo, coentrao, and pepe. I love portugals starting 11, but too bad they have no substitutes that bring fear to anybody

  4. Paul Miller says:

    In non-qualifying play, I see Australia beat Costa Rica in a friendly. From last summer’s Mexican meltdown at the Confeds Cup to these interconfederation friendlies, CONCACAF seems to be living down to outside expectations. We did beat Germany in that friendly, but it’s not hard to explain that possible anomaly away.

    Can’t believe Ukraine couldn’t protect a two-goal aggregate lead.

    • Anthony says:

      I am fairly impartial here, but Ukraine has a pretty pedestrian team. I watched the whole game in background (took a late lunch while I was working). France COMPLETELY controlled the game, if the had put away some of their chances, they could had scored 5 goals.

      BTW, Benzema had a valid goal which incorrectly called back (but his later goal was clearly offiside — so it made up for the 1st miss)

  5. usaalltheway says:

    I just watched the highlights.

    Those passes to Ronaldo were insane. Pinpoint perfection. I know it’s international football and the competition is high but if you are receive through-balls like those, it’s going to be pretty easy to score. All he had to do was run fast and not screw up.

    As for that Ibrahimovic fellow, he is a horse’s arse. He is an amazing player but is ego would have been too much for the World Cup. Too bad Gooch didnt’ break his legs or knees…

    Looks like we will just to have to put up with Ronaldo’s ego only.

    • KingGoogleyEye says:

      I don’t think you appreciate the extremely tight angles Ronaldo had to find for his goals—while sprinting and holding off a mark. Very few players would make those shots.

  6. DC Josh says:

    Seems that France qualified for a consecutive World Cup on an illegitimate goal. Great job officials…

    • mat says:

      Well considering they had one legitimate goal cancelled before the illegitimate goal was counted, it evens out. Also they won 3-0 and totally and utterly dominated an overwhelmed Ukraine. At the end of the day, the superior team, France, is going to the WC, and that’s a good thing for the level of the tournament.

  7. KingGoogleyEye says:

    France v Ukraine
    I tried to watch, but the diving was too much. Every two minutes. Ugh!

    Portugal v Sweden
    Switched over to this match and was not disappointed. One of the best matches this year. (And only a little bit of Ronaldo’s diving.)