In what was supposed to be a death match between two of the best players in the world and the 20 mortals who get in their way, Cristiano Ronaldo struck first, giving Portugal a 1-0 advantage over Sweden in the first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff.
Before the match, Zlatan Ibrahimovic referred to himself in the third person while arguing why he deserves a trip to Brazil next summer. "I think that the World Cup needs Zlatan more than Ronaldo," he said. "The excitement I can bring to the game and the goals I can score - nobody can rival me for that. I believe the fans would want to see me there above anybody."
But in the first leg against Portugal, Zlatan did what he's done in the knockout stages of so many international tournaments over the years: nothing.
Ronaldo, meanwhile, scored his 10th goal in his last five matches across all competitions, adding one more reason why he's deserving of this year's Ballon d'Or on the last day of voting.
Ultimately, this match reminded us that despite all the pre-match hype, the World Cup doesn't really need any one individual player. It needs great teams. Watching Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic struggle through three to five matches with a squad that can't provide the support of Real Madrid or PSG isn't a magical experience that fans simply cannot be denied. No matter who stays home, the World Cup will still be the World Cup and club football will remain the better showcase for individual talent.
With that said, the second leg can only be better. We hope.
- Sports & Recreation
- Cristiano Ronaldo
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic