Portugal, France, Croatia, Greece, Ghana and Algeria all sealed spots at next summer’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ on Tuesday, leaving only two more places in soccer’s signature summer showpiece.
Cristiano Ronaldo stole the worldwide show, firing Portugal into the finals with a hat trick of the highest quality against Sweden, the fabulous finishing rivaled only by the grandeur of the stage.
Portugal came into the contest with a 1-0 advantage from last week’s match in Lisbon thanks to a Ronaldo header. In the 50th minute of Tuesday’s encounter, the Real Madrid maestro hit on the counter, outrunning Martin Olsson and striking a deadly right-footer to put the contest seemingly out of reach for the Swedes.
Fellow Nike Mercurial Vapor superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic struck back, though, with two goals in a four-minute span—68th and 72nd minutes—to level the tie, though Portugal was still ahead thanks to an away goal. With the match hanging on a razor’s edge, the tension palpable, Ronaldo showed his otherworldly class, striking twice more to silence the supporters in Stockholm. His legend was already born, Tuesday just added yet another thick chapter to Ronaldo’s illustrious lore.
Elsewhere in dream performances, France fought back valiantly against Ukraine, erasing the 2-0 deficit from the first contest in Kiev in the first half through goals from defender Mamadou Sakho and a questionably onside effort from Karim Benzema. Sakho was on hand in the 72nd minute when Les Bleus netted a historic goal sending Parisians into euphoria and achieving the near-impossible task of qualifying after last Wednesday’s nightmare. No European team had ever come back from a 2-0 first leg result to qualify for the World Cup™.
Greece and their superlative striker Kostas Mitroglou played out a 1-1 draw with Romania to take its World Cup™ ticket following last week’s 3-1 result in Athens. The Ethniki denied Romania the chance to reach the finals for the first time since 1998.
Croatia overcame a first-half red card to star striker Mario Mandzukic, but the Bayern Munich front man did enough to see his country through to the finals with a 27th minute side footed finish. The two sides played to a 0-0 draw last week in Iceland, attempting to become the smallest country population wise to reach a finals. Croatian captain Darijo Srna, the Vatreni’s caps record holder, finished the job in the 47th minute and send Croatia back to the World Cup™ after missing out on South Africa.
In Africa, Ghana made it official, losing in Egypt but winning 7-3 on aggregate after thoroughly dismantling Bob Bradley’s men in the first leg by a 6-1 scoreline.
Algeria triumphed in a 1-0 nervy affair with Burkina Faso to advance to Brazil with a 4-2 aggregate win.
That means Africa’s five spots in Brazil went to Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Algeria and Cameroon. Cameroon was the only team from Pot 2 to defeat one of the five seeded teams in the playoff as Tunisia went down 4-1 on Sunday.
The Inter-continental playoff matches will be decided Wednseday with Mexico and Uruguay odds on to complete the group of 32 teams bound for Brazil. The draw comes Dec. 6, and if Tuesday is any guide, the world is in for a scintillating summer to be sure.
What was your favorite moment of the incredible Tuesday action?