Cristiano Ronaldo scored a brilliant hat-trick as Portugal survived a second-half scare to qualify for their fourth straight World Cup finals with a 3-2 second-leg playoff win against Sweden on Tuesday to qualify 4-2 on aggregate.
The Real Madrid superstar scored all four of his side’s goals including the first-leg winner as he overcame an equally brilliant display from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a classic encounter at Solna.
Ibrahimovic scored both goals for Sweden in vain as the match featured five goals in 29 minutes of second-half madness. Ronaldo also equaled Portugal’s all-time leading scorer in taking his tally to 47, level with retired forward Pedro Pauleta.
“A player who scores a hat-trick in a game of this dimension of course that has an effect that is very influential on the final result,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento told Portuguese radio RTP in reference to Ronaldo’s heroics. “In the second half we demonstrated that we play better when we’re more in trouble than with the advantage, and we were more at ease.”
“After leading 1-0, we lost our way in some situations and we gave away two goals from set pieces. But we had a great reaction and the victory is entirely fair. At 2-2 things became more relaxed and the third goal resolved the match,” he said.
“It seems fair to me that we got the victory and qualified after what we have done over the two matches,” Bento added.
With Portugal leading 1-0 after the first leg and the match scoreless at halftime, Ronaldo turned the game on its head five minutes after the restart when he latched onto a through-ball from Joao Moutinho and guided a left-foot shot past the despairing Andreas Isaksson.
The counterattack, which began inside the Portuguese penalty area, took just two touches to send the former Sporting Lisbon and Manchester United striker free on a break that went the length of the pitch. Sweden were left facing the daunting prospect of scoring three times in 40 minutes and roused the crowd into a frenzy when Ibrahimovic headed home Kim Kallstrom’s corner with 22 minutes remaining.
The packed crowd at the Friends Arena were given further hope four minutes later when English referee Howard Webb correctly awarded a free-kick to Sweden just outside the area which Ibrahimovic drilled low past Rui Patricio.
With a wave of yellow shirts bombarding the Portugal defense, Ronaldo again came to the rescue with two goals in two minutes, both of them clinical finishes after breaking behind the defense.
Hugo Almeida set up Portugal’s third goal which took the sting out of the crowd, before another perfect pass from Moutinho enabled Ronaldo to round Isaksson before smashing the ball in off the underside of the bar.
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