Cristiano Ronaldo came out on top in the first round of his duel with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, getting Portugal’s goal as they beat Sweden 1-0 in the opening leg of their World Cup play-off in Lisbon last night.
However, the Real Madrid striker was lucky to be on the pitch to score with a driving header with eight minutes to go after seeming to headbutt a Sweden player earlier in the second half.
Ronaldo got down low to bravely head home Miguel Veloso’s cross and later hit the bar. Ibrahimovic had a quiet game for Sweden, whose best moment came when Sunderland’s Sebastian Larsson was spectacularly denied by goalkeeper Rui Patricio from the edge of the penalty area.
France face missing their first World Cup in 20 years after slumping to a 2-0 defeat to Ukraine in Kiev in their play-off. Didier Deschamps’ side were always second-best and fell behind in the 61st minute when Roman Zozulia squeezed his shot just under goalkeeper Hugo Lloris from Edmar’s touch.
Samir Nasri then missed a great chance to equalise and Ukraine secured the advantage their display deserved with seven minutes to go when Laurent Koscielny fouled Zozulia in the box and Andrei Yarmolenko converted the penalty. Koscielny’s night went from bad to worse when he was sent off in added time along with Ukraine’s Oleksandr Kucher for violent conduct.
Greece took a big step towards securing a place in Brazil with a 3-1 home win over Romania, the Olympiakos striker Konstantinos Mitroglou scoring twice.
He volleyed Greece in front after 14 minutes but the visitors then hit back four minutes later via Bogdan Stancu’s header from a clever Gabriel Torje free-kick.
The Greeks retook the lead almost immediately thanks to Dimitris Salpingidis’s close-range finish, while Mitroglou added a third in the 66th minute. Romania midfielder Costin Lazar was then sent off in stoppage time.
Ten-man Iceland hung on for a 0-0 draw in the first leg with Croatia in Reykjavik to keep alive their hopes of reaching the World Cup finals for the first time.
Croatia had the upper hand in the opening 20 minutes but the home team dealt with the pressure comfortably before establishing their own more direct passing game.
Iceland were then hit by a double blow when striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson went off injured just before half-time and Olafur Skulason received a red card five minutes after the restart for bringing down Ivan Perisic when he was through on goal.
Eidur Gudjohnsen, on as a substitute, dropped back into midfield and Iceland managed to keep Croatia out as the visitors got on top, Perisic going closest to breaking the deadlock with a shot that whistled wide with seven minutes to go.
Scotland had the better of their friendly against the United States at Hampden Park but had to be content with a 0-0 draw.
With Steven Fletcher back in their attack, Gordon Strachan’s side looked sharper going forward and should have taken the lead in the first half. However, Craig Conway scuffed his shot wide when released down the left.
Robert Snodgrass was denied in the 53rd minute when his curling free-kick was touched over the bar by Tim Howard in the US goal.
A terrible error by goalkeeper Roy Carroll and defender Chris Baird on the stroke of half-time condemned Northern Ireland to a 1-0 defeat in Turkey
Having weathered plenty of Turkish pressure in the first 45 minutes, Carroll and Baird left Bilal Kisa’s chip to each other, allowing Mevlut Erdinc to steal in and score the winner.
Germany, who play England at Wembley on Tuesday, earned a 1-1 draw with Italy in Milan. Mats Hummels’ header from a corner gave them an early lead but Ignazio Abate equalised just before the half-hour with a left-footed drive.
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