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Saturday 21 April 2018

Sweden look to positives in 'Zlatan Arena'

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (R) congratulates Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo after their 2014 World Cup first leg qualifying play-off. Picture credit: Rafael Marchante / REUTERS
Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (R) congratulates Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo after their 2014 World Cup first leg qualifying play-off. Picture credit: Rafael Marchante / REUTERS

PORTUGAL are 1-0 up after the first leg of the World Cup play-off against Sweden but with tomorrow night's return match being held at a stadium dubbed the 'Zlatan Arena' the job is by no means done.

Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic was relatively subdued in the first leg in Lisbon on Friday as a late diving header from Cristiano Ronaldo put Portugal in the driving seat.

Ibrahimovic, though, has a penchant for the spectacular at Sweden's home ground and at the age of 32 he will be desperate to take his country through to next year's finals in Brazil.

The Paris St Germain forward has scored 10 goals in eight matches since Sweden took up residence at the Friends Arena, including a four-goal haul against England in the opening game there.

Three of those goals have come in World Cup qualifiers with two against the Faroe Islands and the other one the winner in their final group game against Austria.

Coach Erik Hamren said he wanted an improved performance from his team on Tuesday.

"There were too many long balls to Johan (Elmander) and Zlatan on Friday and we didn't have the energy to support the attack," Hamren told reporters. "We've got to have more quality when we win the ball."

Ronaldo was also short of his best in Lisbon although he dived in among the flying boots to grab the winner.

Ibrahimovic represents Sweden's best hope and despite coach Paulo Bento's suggestion that Portugal are not overly dependent on Ronaldo, the Real Madrid forward is by far and away their most potent weapon in attack.

Meanwhile, Romania must attempt the 'extraordinary' if they are to overturn a 3-1 deficit against Greece in the second leg of their World Cup play-off in Bucharest tomorrow and end a 16-year absence from the tournament finals. The Greeks humbled Victor Piturca's team in Friday's first leg thanks to a double from Kostas Mitroglou and a Dimitris Salpingidis strike.

Few neutral pundits give the Romanians much hope of qualifying for next year's tournament in Brazil.

"If we manage to qualify, it will be extraordinary for Romanian football, and for myself," said Piturca, who has been criticised at home for being overly tactical.

In the other play-off, veteran coach Lars Lagerback takes his unfancied Iceland side to Croatia after holding their vaunted rivals to a scoreless draw in Friday's first leg.

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