What a day of football.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored a tremendous hat trick to lead Portugal into the 2014 World Cup — besting Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s brace, which had briefly revived Sweden’s hopes — while France became the first nation ever to qualify for a major tournament after losing a playoff first leg 0-2 on the road.
Elsewhere, Greece and Croatia also booked their tickets to Brazil, while African World Cup qualifying concluded with Ghana and Algeria claiming the last two African spots.
Care to see some goals now? Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic held their own personal shootout at Friends Arena, with CR7 ultimately besting Zlatan, 3 goals to 2. Whereas Ibra scored his brace on a pair of set pieces — one being an unstoppable free kick — Ronaldo feasted on a trio of breakaways, each finish cooler than the last:
Ronaldo thus wrapped up a clutch performance for the ages; he scored all four of Portugal’s goals over the two legs to ensure that he, and not Zlatan, is heading to Brazil. Not surprisingly, FIFA president Sepp Blatter was quick to congratulate Ronaldo, just weeks after publicly slighting him in favor of Lionel Messi. Even Blatter must have realized that a World Cup without the Ballon d’Or frontrunner would kind of be a bummer:
— Joseph S Blatter (@SeppBlatter)
Ibrahimovic, for his part, could only applaud:
Lovely sporting gesture from Ibrahimovic to applaud Ronaldo’s hat-trick goal. pic.twitter.com/8hugbZHrBK— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker)
A historic moment of truth for Zlatan, realizing there are other players out there as good as him?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic ”One thing is for sure, a World Cup without me is nothing to watch so it is not worth while to wait for the World Cup.”— Get Football News (@GetFootballNews)
Eh, maybe not.
Home fans were in a much better mood in Paris, as France grabbed a historic win over the Ukraine. Needing to win by three goals or more (had Ukraine scored an away goal), Les Bleus did just that, capping the comeback on an own goal in the 72nd minute:
Good thing, too. Imagine a Carnival without France. Impossible!
— Amy Lawrence (@amylawrence71)
Before Tuesday, soccer fans had to prepare themselves for the possibility of a World Cup without the two leading Ballon d’Or candidates — Ronaldo and France’s Franck Ribery (apologies, Messi, but you were simply injured too often in 2013).
It would have been the first time in history that the reigning Ballon d’Or winner would watch the World Cup from home. But thanks to two incredible performances — one by Ronaldo himself, the other, a great team performance by France — those fears have been squashed. A great World Cup awaits.
Only without Zlatan.
Images provided by Reuters.