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Soccer-Sweden and Portugal renew rivalry at Zlatan Arena

Reuters

By Philip O'Connor

STOCKHOLM, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Portugal are 1-0 up after the first leg of the World Cup playoff against Sweden but with the return match being held at a stadium dubbed the 'Zlatan Arena' the job is by no means done.

Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic was relatively subdued in the first leg in Lisbon on Friday as a late diving header from Cristiano Ronaldo put Portugal in the driving seat.

Ibrahimovic, though, has a penchant for the spectacular at Sweden's home ground and at the age of 32 he will be desperate to take his country through to next year's finals in Brazil.

The Paris St Germain forward has scored 10 goals in eight matches since Sweden took up residence at the Friends Arena, including a four-goal haul against England in the opening game there.

Three of those goals have come in World Cup qualifiers with two against the Faroe Islands and the other one the winner in their final group game against Austria.

Coach Erik Hamren said he wanted an improved performance from his team on Tuesday.

"There were too many long balls to Johan (Elmander) and Zlatan on Friday and we didn't have the energy to support the attack," Hamren told reporters. "We've got to have more quality when we win the ball."

Ronaldo was also short of his best in Lisbon although he dived in among the flying boots to grab the winner.

Ibrahimovic represents Sweden's best hope and despite coach Paulo Bento's suggestion that Portugal are not overly dependent on Ronaldo, the Real Madrid forward is by far and away their most potent weapon in attack.

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The former Manchester United player, on 44 goals, is now only a hat-trick away from equalling Pauleta (47) as his country's all-time top scorer.

"What is a fact for me, not only in this match but throughout qualifying, is that we had a load of chances and lacked effectiveness in front of goal," Bento said on Friday.

"But good things are coming and I believe we will be better on Tuesday."

Although Portugal restricted him to one effort on goal in Lisbon, all eyes will be on Ibrahimovic at an arena where he seems to score at will.

The tall Swede is hoping the home fans can inspire his side on Tuesday.

"We're usually spoiled when it comes to support from the people," said Ibrahimovic. "Now it's just a case of standing behind us and supporting us so we can go in and do our best."

With the tie delicately balanced, the stage is set for a showdown in Stockholm between two of the best players in the world.

"It's going to be a complicated match, we have the minimum 1-0 advantage and we know it might not be enough but I have hope," said Ronaldo.

"We will try and score a goal there and if we do that it will make their task very difficult because they need three goals." (Additional reporting by Daniel Alvarenga in Lisbon, editing by Tony Jimenez)

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