Super Zlatan vs. CR7

Today marks the beginning of the European World Cup Qualifying Playoffs. There are four two game series going on, three of which are Croatia vs. Iceland, Greece vs. Romania, and France vs. Ukraine. However, most soccer fans outside those counties will be transfixed on the two-game playoff between Sweden and Portugal. In this game two of the world’s best soccer players, and current favorites to win the Ballon d’Or, will attempt to lead their team to victory. For Zlatan Ibrahimovic this is probably his last chance to make a World Cup. He is 32 and most player’s skills, especially strikers,  begin to steadily decrease after 30. Although, Zlatan is having one of the best seasons of his career, there are many who rightly believe that this is the swan song of his career. Aging players typically tend to make up for their decreasing pace by using their veteran experience and guile to add another dimension to their game and make themselves less reliant on speed. A great example of a veteran player changing his game to compensate for his aging body is Kobe Bryant who has continued to play at a high level long after his athleticism began to wane. There’s a great chance Zlatan Ibrahimovic plays in the next European Cup but there’s little hope he gets to play another World cup. Andriy Shevchenko may have scored a couple of goals when he was 36 for Ukraine in the 2012 Euro Cup, but anyone watching the game knew that although his nose for goal was ever-present, his body could not keep up with what he wanted to do.  At the end of the day, Ibrahimovic wants to highlight his already spectacular year, and overall international career, with a trip to the World Cup. It is just unfortunate that he is running into…

Cristiano Ronaldo has had mixed results in his international career. Although he has always played his heart out for his country, he has not always been as effective as he has been for his club. Many speculate that this is because of the enormous pressure he has on himself to perform. Cristiano is no stranger to pressure, he has performed admirably in domestic and european finals. He is always one of, if not the, top goalscorer in every league and competition he plays in. However, at every team he plays for, despite being the best player on the team, he is surrounded by tremendous talent. Although Portugal is a great team, their attacking ability relies almost solely on Cristiano Ronaldo. When he is ineffective, the Portugal attack is profligate. Helder Postiga and Nani are decent players, but not the type of players who can carry a team. Thus, Cristiano Ronaldo seems to try “too hard” when he plays for Portugal. He tries to do too many things and thinks too hard about carrying his team to victory. The Ronaldo that is so effective for his club is much more freewheeling and less pressured. It did not help that Portugal’s old coach played him as a lone striker which negated most of the reason Ronaldo is effective, which is when he cuts in from the wing. However, this coach seems to understand Cristiano much better and by giving him the armband he has created a leader on his team who had once been accused of playing only for himself.

In order for either team to win, both men know that they must be the ones who carry their team to victory. That is not to say they have to be the game-winning goal-scorers. They could both score zero goals, although that is not ideal, as long as they are capable of creating chances for their teammates by drawing defenders to them and away from their teammates. Both players are having career seasons and both know that not qualifying for the World Cup will put a huge damper on their season. If both players play up to their current club form then this game has the potential to be one of the best soccer games of the year. It’s too bad Ballon d’Or votes will have already been cast though as this game would be a perfect decider to see who is better between the two.

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