The playoffs for the final remaining slots at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil conclude on Tuesday, with Portugal in the driving seat of its shootout with Sweden after Cristiano Ronaldo's late strike in Lisbon gave his side a 1-0 win last Friday. With Fifa applying the away-goals rule in the case of an aggregate tie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who did not manage a solitary touch inside the Portugal penalty area in the Lisbon match, will need to be in more productive boding when the sides reconvene in the Friends Arena in Stockholm (Teledeporte, 8.45pm).
History bodes well for Swedish aspirations: Ibrahimovic has scored 10 goals in eight games in the Solna stadium since the national team relocated there last year, including a memorable quadruple against England on the day of its inauguration on November 14. But Portugal holds the advantage and will not be overly eager to take the game to the host in the early stages.
“Our strategy is to try and win,” said Portugal coach Paulo Bento on Tuesday. “We know that we have the advantage of a goal, but that is not reliable and so our objective is to win the game. We cannot become obsessed with scoring a goal. We want to have the ball, dominate and to score, without leaving it to the last resort.”
We know that we have the advantage of a goal, but that is not reliable"
“The pressure is on us, but we are used to it. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, has been playing at this level for many years. This is not a Zlatan-Cristiano, this is a Sweden-Portugal and we are not thinking about anything other than winning,” said Sweden boss Erik Hamren.
Meanwhile, France has before it the small matter of rewriting history in the Stade de France when Ukraine visits. Les Bleus were beaten 2-0 in Kiev via goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Zozulia and must become the first team in World Cup history to overturn a two-goal deficit in a playoff tie; the same fate that faces Romania after it went down 3-1 in Greece.
Didier Deschamps looks set to reintroduce Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema to the starting line-up as he seeks the “flair and fantasy” required to see off a solid and well-organized Ukraine side.
Iceland, meanwhile, is bidding to reach a first-ever finals and travels to Croatia with the score balanced at 0-0 after the first leg.
In South Africa, Spain shakes off the controversy surrounding its weekend jaunt to Equatorial Guinea and returns to the scene of its greatest triumph to play the Bafana Bafana in a friendly in the same stadium it won the World Cup in 2010 (TVE1, 8pm).