19th November 2013
Having missed their chances in the first leg at Estadio da Luz, Sweden face a tough task in an attempt to overturn a one-goal deficit and seal World Cup qualification. Meanwhile, Portugal will be feeling confident after the 1-0 triumph in the first leg, but the Seleccao will have to show some improvement if they are to avoid any surprises in Solna.
Sweden quickly regrouped following a somewhat disappointing showing at the Euro 2012, and proved they are rightly regarded one of Europe’s top national teams. And while Blagult were unable to battle Germany for the first place in the group in spite of the amazing comeback from four goals behind, they impressed to pip Austria and Republic of Ireland to the play-off berth. Erik Hamren’s side were then unfortunate to be pitted against Euro 2012 semi-finalists Portugal, but were heavily relying on star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic to help them match their more illustrious opponents. And even though the PSG striker was well below par in the first leg, his teammates played a very good match, but ended up losing 1-0 after missing several very good chances. Nevertheless, Sweden proved they can successfully match star-studded Portugal side and with their star player likely to seriously raise his game in the return leg, I am confidence the hosts stand a decent chance of winning the match at Friends Arena in Solna. With no fresh injuries to report, boss Erik Hamren is unlikely to make any changes to his starting line-up.
After the Seleccao put in some very good displays at the Euro 2012 that almost saw them pip mighty Spain to the place in the final, everybody expected Paulo Bento’s side would have no problems achieving World Cup qualification. However, Portugal not only struggled to match group leaders Russia, but also suffered several unexpected slip-ups on the way, and they clearly haven’t lived up to their potential. The first leg against Sweden showed just how much the team rely on Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored the winner late into the game before powering a header against the crossbar in the dying moments. With so many high-profile players in the squad, this is clearly a devastating fact, and it cannot really give the Seleccao plenty of reason for optimism ahead of the return match. The lack of a prolific centre forward has been the main issue for several years now, with neither Helder Postiga nor Hugo Almeida impressing when leading the line. The good news is that Cristiano Ronaldo, Fabio Coentrao and Pepe have all resumed full training, with Paulo Bento also expected to stick to the side that masterminded a narrow victory in the first leg.
Portugal have been struggling for form throughout the qualifying campaign and if Sweden somehow manage to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet, they will have an excellent chance of overturning the one-goal deficit. However, since we are likely to see a cagey affair, betting on half-time draw looks the right thing to do.
Verdict: Draw at half-time
Best Odds: 11/10