It is a blow for all football fans around the world that either one international superstar will qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. No matter what the outcome is at the end of the two legs, hearts will be broken of football fans around the world.
Both Portugal and Sweden failed to immediately qualify for next year’s World Cup and therefore are facing each other tonight for the first leg of the play-offs. The second leg is set to be four days later.
If this was a perfect world, both teams would be participating but we don’t live in a perfect world. So one star will be watching the biggest sporting event in the world on TV.
What makes this the most anticipated and talked about game from all the play-offs is the fact of who this game is featuring: Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic. The two have rarely crossed paths before so picking out a winner is more difficult than usual.
The two mega-superstars aren't thought to be close. In Ibrahimovic’s recent book, he explained how Real Madrid’s main man is “usually referred to as Cristiano to distinguish him from the player who, for me, will always be the one true Ronaldo.”
But both of them have more in common than people might think. Both Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic come from harsh backgrounds, both had a father with drinking issues, and both have a sibling with drug issues. Another thing these two have in common is their individual skill and their love for tricks. Unsurprisingly, being selfish with the ball and upsetting their teammates accompanied this talent. However, Ronaldo matured more quickly as a team player. This is probably due to the influence of Manchester United’s legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. It wasn’t until Fabio Capello took in Ibrahimovic at Juventus that he learned the same team discipline.
What is also surprising is their failure at an international level. During the 2004 Euro, the Swede struggled with poor form and a groin problem at 2006 World Cup, and was troubled by a knee injury at Euro 2008. The Swedes didn't even qualify for the 2010 World Cup and last year, despite Ibrahimovic top performance, went out at the group stage of Euro 2012.
Portugal have been more successful than Sweden having had a first-class generation that began with Luis Figo and Rui Costa and through to Ronaldo. They have reached two major semi-finals since the Euro 2004. Yet there is a shared feeling amongst football fans that Ronaldo is carrying the team despite possessing players such as Joao Moutinho, Luis Nani, Fabio Coentrao and Pepe.
What is guaranteed is that both games will be a sight to see and no player will disappoint. Ronaldo definitely needs this qualification to give him a push for the Ballon D’Or. But that doesn’t lessen the importance of this qualification for Ibrahomvic. Both players will be looking to cement their names in history and tonight is where the journey beings.