LISBON (Reuters) - Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic can be the match-winner in their World Cup playoff against Portugal if his team mates also rise to the challenge, coach Erik Hamren said on Thursday.
He told a news conference on the eve of the first leg that it was hard to escape talking about Ibrahimovic and Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo ahead of their mouth-watering duel.
“It’s a fight between them of course, two world class players, but we need the team to be good,” a relaxed Hamren told reporters at the Luz stadium, which is a 65,500 sell-out.
“If we can use Zlatan, we need to be good as a team because he needs that support. But if we are playing well, if we are good as a team, then he can be the match-winner.”
Hamren said Portugal are favorites but added that Sweden, who will host the second leg in Solna on Tuesday, would put in the sort of top performance that earned them a playoff spot by finishing second in Group C behind runaway leaders Germany.
“We have been good in those important games towards the end of qualification. They (Portugal) are big favorites but we have belief in what we’re doing. I have a good feeling,” he said.
Portugal coach Paulo Bento said Ronaldo comes into the match at “a great moment” with the Real Madrid forward, like Paris St Germain’s Ibrahimovic, having scored a hat-trick at the weekend.
Ronaldo tops the scoring charts in La Liga with 16 goals in 13 games while Ibrahimovic has eight from 13, one goal behind Ligue 1 top scorers Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani.
Bento also said he would be shocked if Ronaldo did not win the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or award for world player of the year.
“(My pick is) Ronaldo,” he said. “He has shown extraordinary qualities and performances throughout the whole year. I think he already should have won it in other moments.”
Ronaldo was crowned World Player of the Year in 2008 before Barcelona’s Argentina forward Lionel Messi won four in a row.
“It will be completely unfair if he (Ronaldo) does not win it this year. Regardless of what happens, for me he is the best player in the world right now, no doubt”, added Bento.
Editing by Ken Ferris