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Updated: November 17, 2013 16:08 IST

European showdown for last four World Cup places

DPA
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Logo of 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament that will be held in Brazil 2014.
AP Logo of 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament that will be held in Brazil 2014.

Cristiano Ronaldo has put Portugal ahead in their World Cup play-off tie but now Sweden will be hoping it will be the turn of Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the two teams meet in the second leg.

Europe’s last four places for the World Cup finals in Brazil next year will be decided Tuesday -- and all eight teams will believe they have everything to play for.

That includes France who face an uphill fight at the Stade de France near Paris as they seek to reverse a 2-0 defeat to Ukraine to avoid missing out on a major tournament for the first time in 20 years.

Romania also have to overhaul a two-goal deficit when they face Greece in Bucharest but at least have an away goal in the bag following their 3-1 loss in Piraeus.

Iceland will also have an eye on the away-goals rule following their goalless draw at home to Croatia, knowing a 1-1 draw in Zagreb would be enough for a first World Cup qualification.

Portugal have Ronaldo’s 82nd-minute header to take a 1-0 win to Solna for an evenly-balanced tie with Sweden which had billed as a battle of heavyweight stars Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic.

“It was an important goal that gave us the win,” Ronaldo said. “We could have scored one or two more but the advantage raises our spirits for the away match. But it’s not done yet, it remains 50-50 chances for both teams, in my opinion.” Either Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic will have to sit out the World Cup -- and the same could also apply for another potential world footballer of the year, France’s Franck Ribery.

The European footballer of the year and his team-mates need to shine now against Ukraine after Les Bleus went down in Kiev to a goal from Roman Zozulia and an Andriy Yarmolenko penalty.

France last missed a major finals when they failed to reach the 1994 World Cup, while Ukraine seek their their second World Cup appearance after reaching the quarterfinals in 2006.

France’s Laurent Koscielny and the home side’s Oleksandr Kucher will be missing after both were went off in stoppage time.

“Obviously this is a very bad result for us but we still have to believe,” France coach Didier Deschamps said. “Ukraine are in the better position but there are still 90 minutes to play at home.” Two goals by Olympiakos striker Kostas Mitroglou gave Greece their 3-1 win over Romania, but Greece coach Fernando Santos warned: “Nothing has been decided yet. We need to keep a clear mind.

“We’re halfway there. The players worked a lot and managed to seize the opportunities we had.” Romania goalkeeper Bogdan Lobont is hoping home crowd backing will act as an extra man for the return in which Romania midfielder Alexandru Bourceanu and Greek captain Katsouranis are suspended.

“We will pursue our dream. The home crowd will help us in Romania.

In Bucharest the atmosphere will be impressive,” he said.

Iceland held on for 40 minutes with 10 men in Reykjavik after a red card to defender Olafur Skulason, giving the team coached by Sweden’s Lars Lagerback optimism that they can also resist Croatia in Zagreb.

The day also sees a number of top friendly internationals, with the Wembley meeting between old rivals England and Germany the pick of the games.

World champions Spain meanwhile return to the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg -- scene of their 2010 World Cup win -- to play South Africa.

Italy play Nigeria in a friendly at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground on Monday.

In friendlies involving World Cup finalists, hosts Brazil play Chile, Honduras face Ecuador, Argentina play Bosnia-Herzegovina, Russia take on South Korea, Australia meet Costa Rica, Belgium face Japan and the Netherlands are up against Colombia.

The United States have a game in Vienna against Austria, who have not qualified for the World Cup finals.

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