LISBON: A late goal from Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was enough to give his side the edge in their World Cup play-off against Sweden.
With only one place in Brazil up for grabs one of the two big footballing nations, Portugal will now be slight favourites to make it to South America next summer after Ronaldo’s header.
The Real Madrid star dived in to head home Miguel Veloso’s 82nd-minute cross to score his 44th international goal and give Portugal a 1-0 lead to defend when they travel to Solna in four days time.
Ronaldo has been in scintillating form this season and notched his 28th goal of the season for club and country as Paulo Bento’s side finally opened up the Sweden defence.
Sweden’s own talisman was only ever on the fringes of the game with the Portugal back four keeping Zlatan Ibrahimovic quiet for much of the evening.
Ukraine sealed a vital 2-0 win over France in Kiev as both side’s ended the contest with 10 men.
Roman Zozulya opened the scoring just after the hour-mark as he converted Edmar’s pass from 12 yards out as his effort beat France captain Hugo Lloris, who was playing in goal for Les Bleus despite missing Tottenham’s last two games with a head injury.
Samir Nasri came closest to finding an equaliser before Laurent Koscielny felled Zozulya to condede an 82nd-minute penalty, which was duly converted by Andrei Yarmolenko to double the hosts’ advantage.
Koscielny’s night went from bad to worse when the Arsenal defender was dismissed in injury time for misconduct, with Olexandr Kucher picking up a second yellow card moments later to level up the numbers.
Didier Deschamps’ side now face an uphill battle to reach the World Cup as they look to overturn the two-goal deficeit at the Stade de France next week.
Greece took a large step towards Brazil as they beat Romania 3-1 in Athens, with a brace from Konstantinos Mitroglou proving to be the difference.
The 25-year-old thrashed the hosts in front after 14 minutes before Romania hit back just five minutes later courtesy of a Bogdan Stancu header.
They were level for just over two minutes as Dimitris Salpingidis put Greece back in front from close range with Mitroglou putting distance between the sides as he finished well after Konstantinos Katsouranis’ knock-down.
Croatia could not take advantage of Olafur Ingi Skulason’s sending off as they were held to a 0-0 draw in Iceland.
The Zulte Waregem midfielder was dismissed six minutes in to the second half for a foul on Ivan Perisic but, despite dominating for much of the game, Igor Stimac’s side failed to find a goal to give them a lead to take in to the second leg in Zagreb on Tuesday.