5 things to know about Sweden vs. Portugal
STOCKHOLM (AP) — It’s time to decide which superstar will miss the World Cup — Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
So far, it’s advantage Ronaldo as Portugal takes a 1-0 lead into its second-leg World Cup playoff against Sweden on Tuesday.
The first leg in Lisbon didn’t produce the expected fireworks from the two stars, although Ronaldo did score the only goal of the game. Still, there are high expectations for the return match in Stockholm.
Here are five things to know about the second leg at the Swedish national stadium.
NEVER WRITE OFF SWEDEN
Though Portugal has a slight edge, the second leg is finely-balanced. And Portugal is wary of Sweden’s never-say-die attitude.
The Swedes memorably fought back from four goals down to draw 4-4 with Germany in their World Cup qualifying campaign. They also rallied against Austria, coming back to win 2-1, and did the same against Ireland for a 2-1 victory.
“We expect to face enormous difficulties,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. “We’ll have to be tactically and mentally prepared because we’ll face 90 minutes of suffering to reach our objective.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t make much of an impact in the first leg, but the Portuguese are aware of the damage he can do. A year ago, at the same stadium, he netted all Sweden’s goals in a 4-2 win over England.
The Swedes have a tricky challenge getting the balance right between defense and attack.
They want to level the aggregate score early in the game, but moving more players forward than they did last week in Lisbon could leave them exposed at the back. And if Portugal scores, Sweden will need three goals to win.
“I would like us to score an early goal, or really preferably two. But we won’t get stressed if we don’t deliver in the first half,” Sweden coach Erik Hamren said Monday. “I expect a really tough game because they are a really good team. So, we need to be as good as we were in Lisbon in the defense because Portugal is good but we need to be better in our offense than we were in the second half in Lisbon. I expect it will be drama to the very end.”
AN OLD PORTUGUESE STORY
Portugal has for years struggled to translate its dominance on the pitch into goals.
In the first leg, the Portuguese had 64 percent of possession but only Ronaldo’s 82nd-minute goal to show for their efforts.
“I hope we’re more effective in front of goal on Tuesday,” coach Bento said.
An 85th-minute header from Ronaldo that rebounded off the Swedish crossbar would have provided a bigger cushion for trip to Sweden, but Portugal can’t complain that the striker didn’t do more.
Ronaldo now has 44 international goals, three shy of Pauleta’s national record.
AT FULL STRENGTH
Both teams are at full strength for the showdown in Solna.
Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson has recovered after Ronaldo stepped on his foot in the first leg.
Portugal’s Real Madrid trio — Ronaldo, and defenders Pepe and Fabio Coentrao — skipped training on Saturday but were back on the pitch on Sunday.
DREADED PENALTY SHOOTOUT?
If a World Cup playoff game ends with the aggregate score level, away goals decide the outcome. If the teams are still level, there will be 30 minutes of extra time. After that, it’ll be a penalty shootout to see who goes to Brazil next year.
The last time Sweden faced that trial of nerves in a major tournament was at the 2004 European Championship when it lost against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
Portugal has better memories of that competition, as it defeated England in a penalty shootout at the same stage. But the Portuguese have also felt the heartache of a shootout defeat: they lost one to Spain in the Euro 2012 semifinals.