All eyes will once again be on Portugal and Sweden today, as they will battle in the second leg of their World Cup Qualifying playoff in Stockholm this afternoon. Portugal carries a 1-0 aggregate lead into the second leg thanks to a late goal from Cristiano Ronaldo in the first meeting, but that lead is far from safe.
Despite Ronaldo’s brilliance and the quality around the pitch on both sides, this match comes down the play of one man: Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibra is the best striker in the world and the best player Sweden has by a very wide margin, and he will need to be at the peak of his powers in order to see his country advance to the World Cup.
Ibrahimovic has scored 46 times in 95 appearances for his country, and he has been in magnificent form for both club and country as of late. Today’s game will be contested at Friends Arena, where Ibra has scored 10 goals in just 8 appearances. Sweden will need Ibrahimovic to at least create chances, and preferably to put one or two away.
This rest of the Swedish side simply does not stack up to Portugal in terms of talent, and that fact only adds more pressure to Ibrahimovic, who has to lift the rest of his squad to his level. While Ronaldo receives quality help from players such as João Moutino and Raul Meireles, Ibrahimovic is left with lesser players such as Rasmus Elm and Sebastian Larsson to provide his support. Ibrahimovic’s individual abilities transcend an otherwise average team and make them competitive, and it is essential that he play at that level today.
Sweden did a good job defensively in the first meeting, and they have to continue that performance. They failed to get Ibra enough of the ball on the attack, however, and that will surely be their biggest priority. Every knows that Ibrahimovic must have a big game for Sweden to win, and Bruno Alves and Pepe will be focused on shutting him down. These are the situations in which world class players rise above the rest, and Sweden needs Ibrahimovic to do exactly that if they are going to qualify for the World Cup.