The final round of European playoffs for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil were concluded yesterday, with four teams from Europe confirming their spots for the showpiece event next year. Here’s a wrap of all the action:
Ronaldo hat-trick sends Portugal through
The second leg of the playoff between Sweden and Portugal began with the Portuguese holding a 1-0 advantage from the first leg and at half-time the teams went in goalless, despite a few good chances coming Portugal’s way.
The game burst into life though in the second half, with Sweden showing much more impetus in attack and Portugal content on sitting back and striking on the counter. Eventually Portugal won 3-2 on the night, and 4-2 on aggregate.
It was round two of the clash between two of the world’s best in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo. At the end of the night though, it was the Portuguese superstar who shone the brightest as he put on a masterclass in attacking play that tore the Swedish defence to shreds and left their World Cup dream in tatters.
After having spurned some good chances to take the lead in the first half, it was Sweden who came out positive in the second. And but for a good save from Portuguese keeper Rui Patricio off a shot from Sebastian Larsson, the Swedes may have taken the lead.
As it so happens, many a time, Portugal picked up the ball and scored themselves from their next attack as Joao Moutinho pinged an excellent through ball to his captain, who was making a fine run on the left-hand side, and Ronaldo hammered it past Andreas Isaksson.
The goal put Portugal up 2-0 on aggregate and left the Swedes with a tough recovery job. But they didn’t back down and Ibrahimovic got them back in the contest with a double strike. First, he headed in from close range off a Kim Kallstrom corner, and then belted a stinging, low free-kick that got past Patricio and put the hosts 2-1 up on the night and level on aggregate, needing another goal to go through.
Ronaldo, however, was to have the final say on the contest, as 10 minutes after the second Swedish goal, he ran onto another through ball, this time from Hugo Almeida, and hit a low, well-placed, left-footed effort past Isaksson.
That in itself ended Sweden’s hopes of qualifying, but Ronaldo went on to add an exclamation point on the night, as he claimed his hat-trick with a brilliantly taken goal, once again latching onto a through ball from Moutinho, before rounding off the keeper and calmly slotting it in, despite there being two defenders on the line.
Ronaldo could have scored much more throughout the game, but his hat-trick ensured Portugal’s trip to Brazil and that one of the world’s best would not miss out on the biggest international tournament in football.
“I know Portugal needed me in these matches and I showed that I am here,” he told Portuguese TV after the game.
- Ronaldo now has three hat-tricks in his last six games in all competitions
- Sweden had 62% possession, Portugal 38%, yet they made better use of it
- Ronaldo had four of Portgual’s five shots on target.
France stage remarkable comeback at home to edge out Ukraine
Les Bleus mounted an inspired fight back as they emerged 3-0 winners from their return leg at home to overcome the 0-2 deficit from the first, and edge their way past Ukraine into the 2014 FIFA World Cup, winning 3-2 on aggregate.
The hosts took the lead on 22 minutes, when Mathieu Valbuena swung in a cross from the right which was cleared only as far as Franck Ribery, whose shot on goal was saved by the Ukrainian keeper, only for Mamadou Sakho to turn in the rebound.
11 minutes later, from another not-so-well-cleared cross, Yohan Cabaye this time took aim and unleashed a shot on goal. The shot struck Valbuena in front of him, before bouncing into the path of a clearly offside Karim Benzema, who poked it past the keeper to give France a 2-0 lead.
Ukraine’s yielded nothing from the referee and the linesman, as they completely failed to spot Benzema’s clear offside infraction. But, it was perhaps justification in a way, as just minutes earlier Benzema had put the ball in the net, only for it to be incorrectly ruled offside.
The French position was strengthened further two minutes after the restart when Ukraine were reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Yevhen Khacheridi after picking up a second yellow card for a rather wild lunge on Ribery.
With the man advantage, France took complete control of possession and the Ukrainians hardly got the ball. But, they were still struggling to create clear-cut chances, Ribery and Mathieu Debuchy going close on a few occasions.
The pressure finally paid off on 75 minutes when, Oleh Guzev made a mess of his clearance, inadvertently knocking the ball into his own net, under pressure from Sakho.
The France players proceeded to toss coach Didier Deschamps in the air in celebration at the conclusion of the game.
France became the first team to overcome a 2-0 deficit from the first leg of a World Cup qualifier.
Ukraine were previously unbeaten in 12 games before last night’s match.
Ukraine hadn’t even conceded a single goal in the last eight matches.
10-man Croatia make it through to the World Cup finals
Croatia beat Iceland 2-0 at home despite playing with 10 men.
Goals from Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic and Shakhtar Donetsk full-back Dario Srna did the trick for the Croatians.
Mandzukic opened the scoring with a well-taken goal on 27 minutes, but the night would end prematurely for the striker, who was sent off shortly before half-time for an extremely hard foul on Johann Gudmondsson.
The sending off left the home crowd anxious, but two minutes after the break, those fears were dispelled as captain Srna netted Croatia’s second, rifling in a low shot from 15 metres out, after cutting in from the right flank to receive an excellent pass from Mateo Kovacic.
Croatia, in fact, showed no signs of suffering from that red card to Mandzukic, as they threatened to score more goals. Kovacic saw his effort tipped over by Iceland keeper Hannes Halldorsson and Ivica Olic’s spectacular overhead kick crashed against the crossbar.
The 25,000 fans were in joyous mood as they celebrated Croatia’s passage to the World Cup and chanted coach Niko Kovac’s name.
Mitroglou on target once again as Greece qualify
Two Greek players found the back of the net in last night’s game, one for Romania and one for Greece.
The match ended 1-1, after prolific Greek striker Kostas Mitroglou’s opener was cancelled out by Vasilis Torosidis, who put past his own keeper for an astonishing own goal.
Mitroglou, who scored twice in Greece’s 3-1 first leg win, beat the offside trap midway through the first half to score his 22nd goal in all competitions this season.
Greece progressed 4-2 on aggregate, in the process qualifying for their second consecutive World Cup finals appearance, after having missed out on the 1998, 2002 and 2006 editions.
Greece came into the game on the back of seven consecutive wins
The goal conceded by Greece in their first leg was the first that they had let in 594 minutes of footballPublished 20 Nov 2013, 11:04 IST