herald

Wednesday 19 September 2018

We can't Ron' scared

Swedes can curtail star Portuguese – Granqvist

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. Picture credit: Rafael Marchante/REUTERS
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. Picture credit: Rafael Marchante/REUTERS
Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic and teammate Johan Elmander during a soccer training session in Stockholm. Picture credit: Anders Wiklund/REUTERS

SWEDEN'S defence must hold their nerve when they come up against prolific Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo in their World Cup qualifying play-off tonight, defender Andreas Granqvist has said.

"It's about not giving him too much space, too much time on the ball," Granqvist said as his team prepared for training before departing for the first leg in Lisbon.

"If we can defend as a team and stay tight, I think we can succeed. A key to our defence will be to have the nerve to get tight on him, maybe double up so that he doesn't get much time."

Portugal captain Ronaldo tops La Liga's best scorers list this season with 16 goals and has also been on fire in the Champions League with eight goals in four games.

"Clearly he's one of the best players in the world and he's coming into this with great form. He's scored an awful lot of goals for Real Madrid, both in the Champions League and the league," Granqvist said.

"We'll have to focus on him as a team, but it's not just him. They have some very skillful players apart from Ronaldo."

Granqvist said that playing the first leg in Lisbon tonight could be an advantage, but only if the Swedes could achieve a good result to take back to Stockholm for the return leg on November 19.

"If we get a good result it's clearly an advantage to play the second leg at home, but if we get a bad result away it's not that great.

"I prefer to play away in the first match, but we'll see what result we get."

This tie means that one of Europe's most sensational goalscorers won't be thrilling the crowds in Brazil next summer.

Ronaldo and Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic are two of the game's top showmen and prolific scorers.

Help

Celtic's Swedish defender Mikael Lustig has the job of marking Ronaldo – and says he'll need some help, because "support is the secret in a game like this."

Ibrahimovic is Sweden's second all-time scorer, with 46 goals. He has racked up 15 goals in 16 games for Paris Saint-Germain this season, including seven in the Champions League. The 32-year-old striker was the French league's top scorer last season and can swing a game in his team's favour.

A year ago, he scored all of Sweden's goals in a 4-2 win over England, with his late overhead kick counting as one of the sport's greatest goals.

"We can stop him," Portuguese centre-back Bruno Alves said.

"But it means stopping the whole Sweden team because if he doesn't get the ball he can't do much."

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