Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Sweden's World Cup hopes hinge on Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Play-off advantage: Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the first leg
Play-off advantage: Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the first leg

Sweden know their World Cup hopes rest on getting the ball to Zlatan Ibrahimovic as they prepare for the second leg of their qualifying play-off against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.

The battle of the superstar forwards went Ronaldo's way in the first leg as his diving header gave Portugal a 1-0 advantage, and Sweden were left to ponder the scraps on which Ibrahimovic fed.

Sebastian Larsson believes Sweden simply need to play higher up the pitch in order to pose a greater threat.

He said: "We cannot go out all guns blazing but we must have a more attacking game with more ball higher up the pitch, then we will get Zlatan more in the game."

They could also have conditions on their side, with the Portuguese media already pointing nervously to forecasts which predict temperatures will be around freezing point.

With the condition of the pitch also being brought into question, Ronaldo is braced for a tough encounter.

"Portugal have a small advantage, and we are expecting a very difficult game, but we are ready," he said.

"We will have to be fully focused. More than anything else, these players want to be in Brazil, so we will give our best to get there."

While that tie remains delicately poised, France have it all to do following their surprise 2-0 defeat to Ukraine in Kiev last week.

Blaise Matuidi has called on Les Bleus to play "with heart, with guts and with the head" as they bid for an improbable turnaround.

The Paris St Germain midfielder told the French Football Federation's official website: "We have to play with heart, with guts, but with the head as well."

Ukraine have kept eight consecutive clean sheets, and goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov believes his defence can help secure one more and a ticket to Brazil.

"For me the main thing is the result of the team. It is more important to go to Brazil than to set records," he said.

Iceland did well to secure a clean sheet last week too, drawing 0-0 with Croatia in Reykjavik, but Niko Kovac is confident that Croatia will prevail on home soil.

Greece are strong favourites to advance from the remaining qualifier after taking a 3-1 lead against Romania in Athens last week.

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