By Hamza Jabir
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a devastating hattrick to ensure Portugal’s place at next years world Cup Finals in Brazil after a 3-2 win over Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.
The tie had been billed as the battle between the two superstars, and for once the subjects lived up to the hype. Ronaldo opened the scoring on 50 minutes after latching onto a Joao Moutinho through ball and finishing ruthlessly to double Portugal’s one goal advantage from the first leg, also scored by Ronaldo.
Sweden rallied round their talisman Ibrahimovic and the PSG striker looked to have set up an unlikely turn around, grabbing two goals in 4 mintues. A close range header and a thunderous freekick meant the Swedes needed just one more goal to qualify. However two more clinical strikes by the Real Madrid man secured the victory and sadly for the neutral ensured Ibrahimovic will not feature at what would almost certainly have been his last World Cup.
In the other three European play offs, France overturned a two goal deficit by defeating Ukraine 3-0 in Paris. Goals from Sakho, Benzema and a Gusev own goal ensuring a historic win for ‘les Bleus’. Ten man Croatia ended Iceland’s fairytale with a 2-0 victory in Zagreb following a 0-0 draw in the first leg and Greece progressed 4-2 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw with Romania in Bucharest.
In the African qualifiers, Ghana progressed despite a 2-1 defeat to Egypt in Cairo, with the game little more than a formality after the black Stars 6-1 first leg victory in October. They are joined by Algeria after a Majid Bougherra header was enough to ensure an away goals victory over Burkina Faso after a 3-2 reverse in the first leg. Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon make up the rest of the contingent from the continent.
An Oribe Peralta hatrick ensured Mexico completed their rout of New Zealand with a 4-2 win in Wellington following on from last weeks 5-1 success. The final place at the finals is to be decided tonight as Urugauy host Jordan in Montevideo, however the tie is little more than a formality after the hosts 5-0 victory in Amman.
There was a mixed bag of results for the home nations with England, Scotland and Ireland all in friendly action last night. Scotland continued their revival under Gordan Strachan with a smash and grab victory over Norway in Oslo. A second half Scott Brown strike prolonging his sides unbeaten run to four games.
There was no such luck for Roy Hogdson’s England as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat to rivals Germany. A Per Mertesaker header consigning England to back to back Wembley defeats for the first time since 1972. Finally, Martin O’neil continued his solid start as Ireland boss with a 0-0 draw against Poland.