Ronaldo saves the day for Portugal

Updated: 2013-11-17 07:06

By Reuters in Lisbon (China Daily)

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Cristiano Ronaldo struck the first blow in his personal duel with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when his late flying header gave Portugal a 1-0 win over Sweden in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff on Friday.

Neither of the big-name players contributed much to a feisty encounter until Ronaldo stooped to meet Miguel Veloso's pin-point cross from the left with an intelligent header in the 82nd minute.

Until then, Ronaldo had struggled against a massed Swedish defense, wasted two free kicks by firing into the wall and been booked shortly before his goal for a foul on goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson as his frustration boiled over.

Sweden had several chances in the first half before Portugal took control after the break at the Luz stadium, gaining the upper hand for Tuesday's second leg in Stockholm.

"We would have been very happy with a draw," Sweden coach Erik Harmen said. "We played a good game defensively, the goal was unnecessary, we were careless with that cross."

Ronaldo saves the day for Portugal

Portugal could have gone ahead in the opening minutes when Raul Meireles put Joao Moutinho clean through only for the Monaco midfielder to shoot into the side-netting.

The Swedes then enjoyed a brief period of dominance and came close when Johan Elmander just failed to hit the target from a pinpoint cross by rightback Mikael Lustig.

Ibrahimovic was mostly left alone up front, making him easy prey for the Portuguese defense.

His only real flash of inspiration was a dummy which created a clear shooting chance for Sebastian Larsson, whose effort was turned away by Rui Patricio.

Portugal was also hugely relieved to see Kallstrom blast a close-range free kick narrowly wide.

The host then won a flurry of corners which produced little apart from a Ronaldo header over the bar.

The Swedish fielded a very experienced side with more than half of their starters in their 30s, many of them with the last chance to play a World Cup.

Portugal coach Paulo Bento, in turn, stuck to his routine lineup, with Veloso and Moutinho the midfield combatants while Nani and Helder Postiga completed the attacking trio alongside Ronaldo.

Portugal dominated the second half although they did not create many clear-cut chances until Ronaldo's goal. That brought them to life and Ronaldo headed against the bar in the dying minutes.

(China Daily 11/17/2013 page7)