Home » Latest » Sweden 2 Portugal 3: Ronaldo bags hat-trick to send them through

Sometimes words cannot do a deed justice but last night in Stockholm Sweden coach Erik Hamren filled the vacuum with a simple gesture. On seeing Cristiano Ronaldo tear out his heart with his hat-trick goal, Hamren turned away, puffed out his cheeks and slowly shook his head.

His team had been felled by brilliance and he knew it. At times there is very little a coach or his players can do.

Sweden, let us remember, had moments earlier threatened to achieve something quite special themselves. Trailing by one on the night – and two on aggregate – after Ronaldo’s 50th minute goal, Hamren’s team somehow roused themselves to score twice through Zlatan Ibrahimovic to bring this occasion to a most unlikely boiling point.

With the Friends Arena in a frenzy, Portuguese minds began to frazzle. Could they really throw a place in Brazil away?

For a moment it looked like they could as Sweden, fuelled by adrenaline, swarmed forwards. Having scored twice in four minutes, they needed just one more.

Great players, though, don’t feel panic, they only see further opportunity to exhibit their genius.

And so it was here as Ronaldo broke away twice to complete a hat-trick that – simply because of the circumstances – deserves to stand alongside anything he has done previously in his gilded career.

Ibrahimovic will reflect on his own stoic contribution and perhaps wonder what his international career may have brought him had he played with better players. The Swede, though, simply cannot drive a game like Ronaldo can.

After the match, however, via his official app, the striker wrote: ‘One thing is for sure; a WC without me is not worth watching — so it’s not worth waiting for it.’

Ronaldo remains in a different league to his rival. Next summer he will be on a different continent and afterwards his words failed marvellously to sum up his achievement.

‘You never know who’s going to win and that’s why football is brilliant,’ he said.

‘Simply, I did my work.’

Whether his modesty is false or genuine doesn’t really matter. Having scored his team’s goal in the first leg last Friday, his hat-trick on Tuesday night stands as his fifth of the season so far and it is only November. Portugal created ten meaningful chances last night and he was involved in nine of them.

We could go on but, ultimately, all that matters is the best player in the world on current form will be in Brazil next summer. On the face of it, this Portugal team shouldn’t make much of an impression. But if their captain brings this form to the table then, frankly, anything could happen.

Portugal were the better team on Tuesday night. They were over both legs. The only reason that the tie was able to rise to such a frantic denouement was that Paulo Bento’s team couldn’t take enough of the early opportunities that came their way.

Sweden were desperately poor in the first half but stayed in the tie as Ronaldo side-footed a good chance over from 12 yards and then Hugo Almeida headed his captain’s cross in to the side netting when it looked easier to score.

In the 50th minute, though, Ronaldo looked to have settled things. Moments after goalkeeper Rui Patricio saved point blank from Sebastian Larsson, Ronaldo ran clear on to Joao Moutinho’s superb pass to score left footed across the goalkeeper with stunning simplicity.

Sweden now needed three to progress and the night looked over. But Ibrahimovic rose above the strangely static Bruno Alves to head in from a corner in the 67th minute and then drove a low free-kick in to corner after Johan Elmander barged Ronaldo out of the wall four minutes later.

With twenty minutes left, only a fool would have placed a bet. Equally, though, only a fool would have bet against Ronaldo having the decisive influence.

Sure enough he found himself on the end of two brutally effective Portuguese counters – in the 76th and 78th minutes – to score with either foot and the lasting impression of each of his three goals is that at no time was there ever any doubt that he would score.

That in itself is part of the genius. Whether any individual can ever truly master his sport is debatable but Ronaldo has recently come as close as anybody.

Before the game, he tweeted rather prophetically:  ‘Tonight we must be fearless. 1,2,3 Portugal.’ It seems, then, that he is a prophet as well as a magician. He will take his majesty to Brazil next summer and we should be grateful.

I have seen a lot of football and I have seen a lot of Ronaldo. But I haven’t seen much like this.

Sweden: Isaksson, Lustig, Nilsson, Antonsson, Martin Olsson, Larsson (Gerndt 90), Elm (Svensson 45), Kallstrom, Kacaniklic (Durmaz 82), Elmander, Ibrahimovic.

Subs not used: Wiland, Jonas Olsson, Granqvist, Wernbloom, Bengtsson, Johansson, Toivonen, Zengin, Nordfeldt.

Booked: Olsson, Antonsson, Kallstrom, Svensson

Goals: Ibrahimovic 68, 72

Portugal: Rui Patricio, Joao Pereira, Pepe, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao (Antunes 52), Meireles (Carvalho 73), Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Almeida (Ricardo Costa 82), Ronaldo.

Subs not used: Eduardo, Eder, Bruma, Luis Neto, Ruben Micael, Varela, Josue, Postiga, Beto.

Booked: Nani

Goals: Ronaldo 50, 77, 79

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