Ronaldo heads Portugal closer to Brazil
Lisbon, November 16
Cristiano Ronaldo headed Portugal closer to the World Cup as they beat Sweden 1-0 in their play-off first leg in Lisbon.Ronaldo met a Miguel Veloso cross with a diving header past Andreas Isaksson with eight minutes remaining, before hitting the crossbar with a second header shortly afterwards. The Real Madrid star edged his personal battle against Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, though in truth neither player lived up to their stellar billing.
In fact Ronaldo looked more likely to be sent off than score, and he cut a frustrated figure for most of the 90 minutes. He was booked for an overzealous challenge on Isaksson and could have seen a second yellow for his furious protests.
The first half started very brightly, with Joao Moutinho rounding Andreas Isaksson before hitting the ball into the side netting. A minute later and Johan Elmander could have given Sweden the lead, poking the ball wide on the volley when a firmer connection would surely have ended in a goal.
However, after the initial spark, the first half became an exercise in effective frustration by the Swedes. Ronaldo and Nani were largely nullified as Portugal racked up numerous corners without ever effectively testing out Isaksson. In fact, it was the Swedes that went close before the break, a Kallstrom free kick inches wide and Rui Patricio forced to palm away a Larsson drive.
Sweden finally suffered some panic at the start of the second half when a Bruno Alves cross caused panic in the box before Ronaldo fired over. However, from that moment on Ibrahimovic appeared to be left deliberately isolated as Erik Hamren looked to hold on for a draw to take back home.
Portugal did have the occasional half chance thereafter, Helder Postiga heading over and Nani having a shot saved at the near post but the Swedish defenders kept them out manfully until the late goal. All still to play for in Stockholm.
Fading hopes for France after Ukraine defeat
Kiev, November 16
France qualification hopes look slim after 2-0 defeat in Kiev Roman Zozulya’s second-half strike put Ukraine firmly in control of their World Cup qualification hopes as they went on to beat France 2-0 in their first leg play-off tie on Friday night.
Zozulya struck in the 61st minute before Andriy Yarmolenko’s penalty left the 1998 World Cup winners and 2006 finalists firmly on the back foot ahead of the second leg in France next Tuesday.
France defender Laurent Koscielny had a second half to forget as he not only conceded the 83rd-minute penalty but was shown a red card in stoppage time, with Ukraine defender Olexander Kucher following soon after for his second bookable offence.
In a team dripping with talent, France were expected to bring to an end Ukraine’s seven-game run of successive clean sheets while moving one step closer to next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
However, it was Ukraine who claimed the advantage in Kiev leaving Didier Deschamps’ men with little time to regroup ahead of the rematch.
Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud had tested Ukraine goalkeeper Andrei Pyatov with a header, only for the stopper to make a comfortable save, before Paul Pogba saw his 30-yard effort blocked by Artem Fedetskiy.
Other than that, chances were few and far between in the first half until Yevhen Konoplyanka forced a block from Eric Abidal in the 39th minute, with Patrice Evra clearing Ruslan Rotan’s subsequent corner.
After the break, Franck Ribery saw his corner chance caught by Pyatov before he drilled a free-kick into the Ukraine wall from 25 yards out soon after.
At the other end, defender Fedetskiy fired a long range effort of his own over the bar before France keeper Hugo Lloris caught Yevhen Konoplyanka’s 56th-minute effort.
Ukraine midfielder Edmar then served up the pass that would set up Zozulya for the only goal of the match.
The Brazilian-born Ukrainian set up Zozulya from the centre of the area, allowing the Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk striker to slot the ball past Lloris from 12 yards.
Zozulya had another chance denied two minutes later after an Abidal block as Ukraine looked to claim momentum.
Ribery remained a pest at the set piece, although Yevhen Khacheridi was able to clear his corner before Samir Nasri saw his 20-yard effort saved by Pyatov.