Portugal can edge nervy World Cup clash with Sweden
After losing just once during qualifying – at eventual Group F winners Russia – Portugal can feel somewhat unfortunate not to have booked their place at the 2014 World Cup by now.
Paulo Bento’s side host Sweden in the first leg of their World Cup qualifier and while Cristiano Ronaldo and co should justify 8/13 favouritism, PSG hotshot Zlatan Ibrahimovic can give his country something to hold on to ahead of the return leg in Stockholm.
Portugal to win and both teams to score @ 21/10
The Seleccao have not lost a competitive game at home since September 2008 and dug deep to beat Fabio Capello’s impressive Russian outfit 1-0 in Lisbon back in June.
Despite raining down 16 shots to their opponents three, Portugal could not get the three points they needed to go top of their group against Israel in October and memories of that miserable deadlock will be fresh in the minds of Bento’s players against the Blue-Yellows.
The home side contain internationals of a much higher calibre than their opponents and Sweden’s forward three includes Fulham’s Alex Kacaniklic and Norwich’s Johan Elmander, who have scored a single goal between them in 16 Premier League appearances in 2012/13.
However, Portugal have kept just one clean sheet in their last five games – at home to Luxembourg – and Sweden have found the net in each of their last eight outings, so the visitors look good value for a goal.
Ronaldo to score the first goal @ 3/1
Tipping any other Portugal player to score first would be an act of rank contrarianism, as the man from Madeira is clearly his country’s main goal threat from free-kicks, penalties, corners and anywhere else on the pitch really.
Helder Postiga – who is next in the betting for the hosts at 5/1 – has not scored for his club Valencia since the start of September and Nani has been in and out of the Manchester United team under David Moyes this term.
Ronaldo has scored three hat-tricks in 2013/14 for Real Madrid and bagged three strikes for his country against Northern Ireland in qualifying.
He is a worthy short-priced favourite to grab the opener here and should be backed accordingly.
Ibrahimovic to score at any time @ 6/4
As with Ronaldo, it is difficult to look beyond Zlatan when the pressure is on and a burst of patriotism is required.
The PSG star has claimed two four-goal hauls for his country in the last year, following up his dazzling performance against England twelve months ago with all of Sweden’s goals in the 4-2 win against Norway.
Ibrahimovic has scored eight times in his last five internationals and also has a couple of hat-tricks for Ligue 1-leaders PSG this term.
The 32-year-old may lose the war against Ronaldo, but Zlatan can leave his mark on Portugal with a goal at the Estadio Nacional.