Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Cristiano Ronaldo? That is the ultimate question that has, courtesy of the cruel and unforgiving FIFA play-off draw, been fixed in the minds of partisan fans and neutrals alike ever since Sweden were pitted against Portugal for a place in next year’s global showpiece.
Only one team will proceed to Brazil and consequently, only one of these two icons of their respective clubs and countries. I personally would rather have them both in Brazil but since that is obviously not going to be possible; here is a feeble attempt (by all means) at
dissecting exactly whose absence will be felt more.
First and foremost, in Ronaldo and Zlatan, we have two of the currently most in-form players in the world. Nobody has scored more goals in 2013 than the mercurial Portuguese (even Messi you ask? Yes, not even the unfit Argentine), while nobody has made headlines for scoring the most audaciously remarkable (at times even ridiculous) goals over the past 18 months than the enigmatic, giant Swede. This therefore means that, either way, the World Cup is definitely going to be short of some considerable genius.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been in such scintillating goal-scoring form that it would be hard to argue that he has not been this calendar year’s best player despite enduring a trophyless season at the conclusion of Mourinho’s catastrophic final campaign. This season alone, the Portugal captain and ex- world’s most expensive player has already struck an astonishing
27 times, in just 19 appearances. His most recent scoring spree against Real Socieded resulted in a 21st hat-trick for Madrid. His eight strikes so far in the Champions League have already put him in contention for the golden shoe/boot and we are not even through with the group stage fixtures yet. Ronaldo also hit a hat-trick in his last match against Northern Ireland for Portugal in the World Cup qualifiers.
His has been an outstanding individual year, head and shoulders better than anyone’s (well, one Franck Ribery would smirk at this) and his absence will definitely impact negatively on a World Cup competition desperately in need of a Baggio-esque performance in 1994 or a
Ronaldo (the Brazil one) display in the 2002 finals in the fight to remain globally relevant. CR7 is definitely a player capable of producing that on the grandest stage, regardless of the fact that his Portugal side would not even be among the favourites. This is a player utterly in his prime, obliterating goal records and seemingly unstoppable the more he takes to the pitch. He appears indestructible, extra-terrestrial even and wholly capable of dragging an average Portugal side on his own. Plainly put, Brazil needs CR7.
Then there is the towering Sweden captain who is much like his to-be nemesis. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the man with an ego the size of a small planet. Ibracadabra as he is aptly called is a player who defies bio-physics on a regular basis. How he manages to make his gigantic
frame operate, at will, like a footballing gymnast, should be a subject topic for a Harvard PhD thesis class. Zlatan is the epitome of arrogance, bullishness and obnoxiousness. He talks that talk because he, and everyone else, knows he can definitely walk that walk. His 30 yard wonder bicycle kick goal against England in 2012 smacked of disregard to common sense and probability.
People forget that he scored all four of his country’s goals in that match, such is the dumbfounding effect that out-of-this-world goal bears, while earning him a nomination for the Puskas goal of the year award. His recent 100 km/h strike against Anderlecht followed another almost impossible goal against Bastia where he adjusted his body to divert a cross that had been played behind him via his back heel into the net. That goal drew a standing ovation from Bastia fans and left a look of disbelief on Bastia players. Once again the entire football fraternity was made to sit back and acknowledge Ibrahimovic’s talents.
However, Ibra's unpredictability is not restricted to events on the field. The outspoken Swede
carries with him an ego matched only by his footballing talent, marking him out as one of football's few remaining media personalities. He is a true leader of a workmanlike Sweden team that has the potential to repeat one of the great World Cup runs, when, in 1994, they pushed Brazil all the way in a tight semi-final before eventually finishing third. Brazil next summer would be a brighter place without doubt were the Swede to be present and it may well be the last chance, at 32, for him to present himself, one of the game’s greatest entertainers, on such a stage.
On this basis, you just cannot practically be able to project who is needed more. They are just two peas in a pod and true footballing Einsteins. November 19 decides.
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