By DAN KARELL
Two will enter, but only one of Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic will qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
By virtue of finishing in second place in their groups, Portugal and Sweden will face other in qualifying, robbing fans of seeing both international stars at the World Cup but providing a chance to see them matched up against one another.
Portugal head coach Paulo Bento seems to believe that it’s a two-legged matchup that can go in any direction, as both Portugal and Sweden have had their moments in World Cup qualification but have also looked out of their depth at times.
“There are no favorites,” Bento told UEFA. “They are strong physically, not only at set pieces but also in terms of playing direct football because they have two tall and talented players in attack [Zlatan Ibrahimović and Johan Elmander]. It will be a very balanced tie, in which we should be constantly focused because any mistake could cost us. The first match is at home so we will try to play well and win.”
Didier Deschamps’ French side has a difficult task on its hands when it travels to Ukraine, which has not conceded a goal in seven consecutive games. However, France will hope to repeat their performance from Euro 2012, where Les Blues defeated Ukraine, 2-0. France is also unbeaten in its last seven matches against the Ukrainians.
Romania has been handed a tough first-leg match against Greece with a trip on the road without Tottenham defender and Romania captain Vlad Chiriches, who is injured with a broken nose. Greece only missed out on automatic qualification on goal-differential after finishing tied with Bosnia and Herzegovina on points in their group.
Finally, the sweetheart of World Cup qualifying, Iceland, is just two matches away from what would be a historic trip to Brazil next summer. Iceland, which has never made the World Cup before, would become the smallest nation to ever qualify if they can take care of business against Croatia.
Croatia replaced head coach Igor Stimac with the Kovac brothers, with Nico Kovac specifically becoming the new head coach, despite making the playoff round. It will be interesting to see if the former Croatian national team legend can rally the team around the former players and qualify the nation for the World Cup for the first time since 2006.
Here’s the full list of Friday’s UEFA qualifiers:
Portugal vs. Sweden
Ukraine vs. France
Greece vs. Romania
Iceland vs. Croatia
What do you think of these matchups? Do you see Portugal defeating Sweden in the first leg? Do you see Iceland conquering its continental foes? Do you believe Romania can win without its captain? See France coming together on the road?
Share your thoughts below.