Undoubtedly the pick of the World Cup 2014 play-offs, Sweden and Portugal will both be cursing their luck at drawing each other.
Portugal are favourites to qualify at 11/20, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s presence could well see Sweden topple their Iberian rivals and overcome their 13/10 price to qualify for Brazil.
Ibrahimovic’s record is improving with age, scoring 18 of his 46 goals for Sweden since the start of 2012.
Like the very finest of wines Zlatan Ibrahimovic is only getting better with age, with his superb recent form yielding 10 goals for club and country in his past six games.
Since the start of the 2006/7 season Ibrahimovic has contributed 135 goals and 60 assists in 195 league games for four different clubs in three different countries.
The towering striker has embraced the responsibility of the captain’s armband for PSG and Sweden, becoming a leader as well as a consistent match-winner.
Portugal have never beaten Sweden at home, losing four of seven meetings.
In fifteen previous meetings Portugal have only beaten Sweden three times and their home record will be especially worrying for Paulo Bento ahead of the two-legged play-off.
Portugal won the home-leg of their play-off in qualifying for both the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012 and their recent results suggest they will not be able to rely on an away win to progress.
Although they did win away at minnows Northern Ireland and Azerbaijan, Portugal lost to Russia and needed a 90th minute goal to draw in Israel. If Sweden get a result away in the first-leg they will be confident of reaching Brazil.
Ibrahimovic outperformed Ronaldo in qualifying, directly contributing to 11 goals compared to the Portuguese’s six.
Both teams will pretend otherwise but the tie could well come down to which of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic is able to have the bigger influence, and the Swede is in better form for his country.
Ibrahimovic scored six goals in qualifying and set up a further five in nine games while Ronaldo scored just four, three of which came in one game against Northern Ireland, and assisted two.
Sweden are comfortable with relying on Ibrahimovic and the striker himself clearly has no qualms with carrying his country’s hopes, while Ronaldo is yet to show his domestic form on the international stage.