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Friday 21 September 2018

Swede for Ronaldo

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo
Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo
France’s Franck Ribery

A late goal from Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was enough to give his side the edge in their World Cup play-off against Sweden.

With only one place in Brazil up for grabs one of the two big footballing nations, Portugal will now be slight favourites to make it to South America next summer after Ronaldo's header.

The Real Madrid star dived in to head home Miguel Veloso's 82nd-minute cross to score his 44th international goal and give Portugal a 1-0 lead to defend when they travel to Solna in four days time.

Ronaldo has been in scintillating form this season and notched his 28th goal of the season for club and country as Paulo Bento's side finally opened up the Sweden defence.

Sweden's own talisman was only ever on the fringes of the game with the Portugal back four keeping Zlatan Ibrahimovic quiet.

France faced the embarrassing prospect of missing out on a major tournament for the first time in 20 years when they lost 2-0 away to Ukraine in the first leg of their World Cup play-off tie.

Les Bleus, who last missed a major competition when they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals, succumbed to Roman Zozulia's goal shortly after the hour and Andriy Yarmolenko's late penalty, four days before the return leg at the Stade de France.

France's Laurent Koscielny and the home side's Oleksandr Kucher were sent off in injury-time as Ukraine took a step towards securing their second World Cup appearance after reaching the quarter-finals in 2006.

France barely had a chance apart from a Samir Nasri effort and were shaken throughout by a bold Ukraine side.

 

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Didier Deschamps had opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation with Olivier Giroud up front and Karim Benzema on the bench.

The visitors tried to keep possession but Ukraine were the most dangerous side and France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who started the game 12 days after suffering a concussion, made his first block from Yarmolenko's crossed shot in the seventh minute.

Ukraine also came close on the half hour when Edmar's diving header from Ruslan Rotan's cross went wide after yet another nice move from the hosts. FIFA Ballon d'Or hopeful Franck Ribery was closely marked as Les Bleus failed to create clear-cut chances and at the back their weak spot was the left side with centre half Eric Abidal and full back Patrice Evra struggling with Yarmolenko's pace. In the 61st minute, Zozulia squeezed his shot just under Lloris from Edmar's touch to put the home side ahead.

Four minutes later, France almost hit back but Nasri, in a perfect position, shot straight at Andriy Pyatov.

Giroud, who failed to muster a chance, was substituted for Benzema 20 minutes from time.

It was Ukraine, however, who scored again when Yarmolenko converted a penalty after Koscielny had fouled Zozulia in the box.

Greece took a big step towards Brazil as they beat Romania 3-1 in Athens, with a brace from Konstantinos Mitroglou proving to be the difference. The 25-year-old thrashed the hosts in front after 14 minutes before Romania hit back just five minutes later courtesy of a Bogdan Stancu header.

They were level for a little more than two minutes as Dimitris Salpingidis put Greece back in front from close range with Mitroglou putting distance between the sides as he finished well after Konstantinos Katsouranis' knock-down.

Croatia could not take advantage of Olafur Ingi Skulason's sending off as they were held to a 0-0 draw in Iceland. The Zulte Waregem midfielder was dismissed six minutes in to the second half for a foul on Ivan Perisic but, despite dominating for much of the game, Igor Stimac's side failed to find a goal to give them a lead to take to Zagreb on Tuesday.

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