It is the most anticipated international in recent times. Portugal vs Sweden is whetting the appetite more than usual as two of the world’s greatest footballers fight it out for a place at next year’s FIFA World Cup. The phenomenal and awe inspiring Cristiano Ronaldo stands in one corner. And on the opposite side, our very own talisman, leader and catalyst; Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
As well as the fanatical support of the Swedes, the Scandinavians can count on some emphatic support from those affiliated with Les Parisiens. Speaking from a personal point of view, I think it is a football tragedy that one of the two will miss out on next year’s tournament. Ronaldo is playing the best football of his career thus far, breaking records and beginning to click with the player who surpassed his world most expensive tag, Gareth Bale, at the Santiago Bernabeu. How can you have a World Cup without – in my opinion – the best player in the world, at this moment in time? (judging by current form). He is La Liga’s top scorer with 16 goals, eight more than Lionel Messi who has been blighted with injury.
But then how can a maverick such as Ibra, who oozes class, guile and panache miss out as well. Like a vintage bottle of wine, he is seemingly getting better with age. His debut season at the Parc des Princes last season won us the championship. There is absolutely no doubt about it. We were by no means a one man team but his considerable contribution, particularly before the winter break was massive. He won games on his own at times, finishing as Ligue 1’ top goalscorer. When Edinson Cavani arrived in the summer, there were serious doubts around his future. But, a chat with Nasser Al-Khelaifi convinced him that Paris is his home and subsequently signed a new contract till 2016.
His form ever since has been staggering. Named PSG Player of the Month in October, he scored 10 goals during that period. Astounding! The vast majority of his goals were works of art as well. Ibra very rarely does the scruffy tap-ins from four yards. His performance in Anderlecht was as good as you will ever see. It irritates me that people will say; “well it was only Anderlecht”. Rubbish. To perform like that against any champion in that tournament takes a special player. Soon as he rifled in his third, the whole ground stood up and applauded what they had just witnessed. Not many players can obtain a level of respect like that. It was beautiful.
The first-leg of the play-off takes place tomorrow night in Lisbon before the all-important decider on Tuesday back in Stockholm. It really is on a knife edge and could go either way. Portugal were not overly impressive in their qualifying group and Sweden finished second only to Germany. Difficult one to call and will probably depend on who comes out on top between Ronnie and Zlatan.
We are right behind you big man! Allez Sweden.