Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic battle for World Cup spot

Wed Nov 13, 2013 11:40am EST
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By Daniel Alvarenga

LISBON (Reuters) - The story of the 2014 World Cup will inevitably be written without one of the best players in Europe after Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden do battle for a playoff berth.

Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic are both in scintillating form ahead of the two-legged qualifying playoff but only one of their teams will end up in Brazil next year.

Both men scored hat-tricks at the weekend: Ronaldo in Real Madrid's 5-1 rout of Real Sociedad and the Swede netting all of Paris St Germain's goals in a 3-1 victory over Nice.

"We are talking about two world-class stars, living an excellent moment," said Portugal winger Silvestre Varela ahead of Friday's first leg at Lisbon's Luz stadium (1945 GMT).

Portugal captain Ronaldo tops La Liga's best scorers' list with 16 goals while Ibrahimovic, with eight, is one behind Ligue 1 top marksmen Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani.

Ronaldo, 28, and Ibrahimovic, 32, are under pressure to deliver again on Friday, and in next Tuesday's return fixture in Stockholm, and Sweden coach Erik Hamren said his money was on his own man.

"I have Zlatan as number one, as he's my player," Hamren told reporters as the squad gathered in Stockholm ahead of the first leg.

"But Ronaldo is a very good footballer. You can keep an eye on him for 85 minutes and then he'll score two goals from nothing."   Continued...

Paris St Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates after scoring against Nice during his French Ligue 1 soccer match at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris November 9, 2013. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier