World Cup play-off: Ronaldo puts Portugal ahead

Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring Portugal's late winner against Sweden in Lisbon. Picture: Reuters
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring Portugal's late winner against Sweden in Lisbon. Picture: Reuters
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Cristiano Ronaldo once again proved himself to be the man for the big occasion as he emerged victorious from his shoot-out with Zlatan Ibrahimovic to give Portugal the upper hand in their World Cup play-off battle with Sweden.

The bout of the two heavyweights actually proved to be a damp squib for 80 minutes in Lisbon as the two stars failed to shine, before the Portugal captain piped up to secure a 1-0 win with eight minutes left; his 63rd goal of the year.

A slender advantage may not be too great heading to the return leg on Tuesday but after a fairly dire night aside from the goal, it could prove to be invaluable.

Ronaldo had grown increasingly frustrated as his side laboured prior to the goal, and the Real Madrid man was booked for a silly late tackle on Sweden goalkeeper Peter Isaksson. Misery turned to joy with eight minutes to go, though, as Ronaldo proved himself the man for the job as his goal put the home side ahead.

Miguel Veloso crossed from the left and, as Isaksson dallied at his near post, Ronaldo got ahead of Martin Olsson to head in, low, from six yards.

A second would have followed but Ronaldo nodded against the crossbar, but a rousing ovation at the final whistle showed that his work was sufficient.

France face the embarrassing prospect of missing out on a major tournament for the first time in 20 years after they lost 2-0 away to Ukraine in Kiev.

Les Bleus, who last missed a major competition when they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup finals, succumbed to Roman Zozulia’s goal shortly after the hour and Andriy Yarmolenko’s late penalty, four days before the return leg at the Stade de France. France’s Laurent Koscielny and the home side’s Oleksandr Kucher were sent off in injury time as Ukraine took a step towards securing their second World Cup appearance after reaching the quarter-finals in 2006.

France barely had a chance apart from a Samir Nasri effort and were shaken throughout by a bold Ukraine side.

In Athens, Kostas Mitroglou scored twice in a hectic first half as Greece beat Romania 3-1 in the first leg at the Georgios Karaiskakis stadium. The Olympiakos Piraeus striker volleyed Greece in front after 14 minutes but the visitors hit back four minutes later via Bogdan Stancu’s header from a clever Gabriel Torje free-kick.

The Greeks reclaimed the lead immediately thanks to Dimitris Salpingidis’s close-range finish, while Mitroglou added a third in the 66th minute to increase the advantage. Romania’s Costin Lazar was then sent off in stoppage time.

Fernando Santos’ Greece team were well worth the win that gives them every chance of securing a place in Brazil next year after the return leg in Bucharest on Tuesday.

Croatia are also in pole position to reach the finals after they secured a 0-0 draw with ten-man Iceland in Reykjavik.

Iceland were distinctly second best to their visitors but are still in with a chance after they held out despite having to play all but six minutes of the second half with ten men following the dismissal of Olafur Ingi Skulason for a professional foul on Ivan Perisic.