Portugal and Sweden meet tonight in Lisbon to determine which nation will qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Both teams failed to automatically qualify for the tournament by winning their group, Portugal finished second to Russia and Sweden to Germany. As a result only one of the two countries will make the trip to Brazil next summer and consequently the World Cup will be deprived of one of the games biggest stars, Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
As the two teams line up in tonight’s match and the 2nd leg in Stockholm on Tuesday, all eyes will be on two giants of the game as they attempt to lead their respective teams to the finals. Not only are they talented players but they both have the responsibility of team captain too. Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic come into the game at the peak of their powers. They both scored domestic league hat tricks last weekend, Ronaldo’s 4th and Ibrahimovic’s 2nd hat trick of the season so far, and their goal records so far this season have been staggering. Ronaldo has scored 24 goals from 17 games while Ibrahimovic has netted 15 in 14. In the Champions League both players are averaging two goals a game, Ronaldo scoring 8 in 4 including a hat trick away to Galatasary and Ibrahimovic contributing 6 goals from 3 games including 4 goals away to Anderlecht. Whilst their records for their club sides over the past year have been exceptional, Ronaldo; 79 in 72 and Ibrahimovic; 49 in 61 for Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain respectively since the start of the 2012 season, their records during the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign have been less prolific. Ronaldo in particular only scored in two out of the ten qualifying matches and failed to inspire Portugal in 1-1 and 3-3 draws to Israel, a 1-1 draw to Northern Ireland and a 1-0 away defeat to eventual group winners Russia. However, he inspired his team to a 4-2 win over Northern Ireland scoring a hat trick Portugal were 2-1 down, showing how important an in form Ronaldo is to his nation.
For the neutral, choosing which player you would like to see at the World Cup is difficult. At 32 years old, Brazil 2014 will realistically be the last of Ibrahimovic’s career. Since 1999 Ibrahimovic has played for 7 different clubs across 5 European countries. He made his breakthrough in a move to Ajax from Malmo in 2001 and has since played for Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and PSG accumulating a total transfer fee of over €180 million. However, Ibrahimovic is a winner and since 2001 he has won the league in 10 out of his last 12 seasons, winning the league with every club he has played for -with the exception of Malmo- at least once. As a player he is unique. At 6 feet 5 inches, Ibrahimovic is a black belt at Taekwondo and on the pitch he has the perfect balance of strength, agility and control making him one of the best in the world with his back to goal. His ability to score a variety of goals make him one of the most exciting players to watch, scoring a back heel volley one week and a 93 km/h 30 yard strike the next. His overhead kick against England last year has been described as one of the best goals ever scored.
Ronaldo is 4 years younger than Ibrahimovic, so he should have one more world cup in him, but that doesn’t mean his absence at Brazil will not be missed. After making his name at Manchester United where he won 3 titles, a Champions League and a Ballon D’Or, Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid for €94 million and did the unthinkable by stepping up another level. He has scored 225 goals in 216 games for Madrid, a figure only bettered by Lionel Messi in that period. Ronaldo’s pace and skill make him one of the most dangerous players in the world, especially in counter attacking or 1 on 1 situations. His goal scoring ability is simply incredible and he has a variety of weapons in his arsenal from controlled finishes to dipping free kicks and long range shots to powerful headers. He is a more direct player than Ibrahimovic despite usually playing as a left forward. Over the past 5 seasons Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the best player in the world debate and there isn’t a lot to separate the two, even though Messi has won the FIFA Ballon D’Or four times in a row. Brazil 2014 would be a perfect stage for both players to show why they are the best and the competition could be all about Messi against Ronaldo.
Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic. One player will have the chance to shine on the biggest stage in football while the other will have to watch from home. Whatever happens, the player at home, his achievements and his contribution to football cannot be forgotten.