We're in the final hurdle of the 2018 World Cup for the nations of Europe – the first legs of the UEFA playoffs are upon us as Croatia face Greece and Northern Ireland take on Switzerland. Friday sees Italy take on Sweden, while Saturday has Denmark vs. the Republic of Ireland. Outside of Europe in the other play-offs, Honduras throw down with Australia, while New Zealand face the challenge of Peru.
When these games are done, we’ll know exactly who will be heading to Russia alongside the likes of England, Brazil, France and Germany. Often though, the playoff games are as memorable as the World Cup itself. Over the years we’ve seen classic ties, clashes between some of the world’s best players, and of course, plenty of controversies. Here are seven of the most memorable recent World Cup playoff ties.
#1 Sweden vs. Portugal, 2014 World Cup qualifiers
Mouths began to water as soon as the draw for the 2014 World Cup playoffs was made, as in the UEFA section, Sweden were drawn against Portugal – meaning a showdown between two of the greatest players in the world (as well as two of the biggest egos) in the form of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. For a lot of observers, it was suddenly as if the rest of the players on both sides no longer existed – this was literally a two-man show, CR7 against Ibra.
The tie lived up to expectations from all angles. The first leg in Lisbon was a tight one, and an odd game in a way that saw the Portuguese give almost too much attention to Ibrahimovic, leaving his teammates open to create more chances, although Sweden couldn’t score. But it was Ronaldo who decided the tie with a stooping header in the 82nd minute, one of the only gilt-edged chances Portugal created.
The second leg four days later was far more explosive. After a goalless first half, Ronaldo opened the scoring for Portugal only to see Sweden take the lead with two goals in four minutes – both scored by who else but Ibrahimovic – his second goal being a thunderous free-kick to put Sweden in the driving seat. In the end though, the game belonged to Ronaldo, who scored a ridiculous two goals in two minutes to fully decide the tie, Portugal winning out 4-2 on aggregate.
Both superstars gave their all for their country, but in the end it was CR7 who had the last laugh.