The full time whistle blew in Stockholm. And, now the footballing purists among us can breathe.
The main thought that was trending within the footballing world before this week’s World Cup play-offs was not whether Lebanon could score against Uruguay, and nor was it an intense debate over who would win out of Greece and Romania.
It instead focused on the lamentation that the World Cup is going to be bereft of one of the world’s leading players; either Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Why, as so many asked, did this have to be the case when the likes of Giorgios Samaras can strut their stuff on the beaches of the Copacabana?
With Portugal’s victory, though, comes a great sigh of relief. In reality, did anybody want to see Ibrahimovic at the World Cup ahead of Ronaldo?
This question is not to belittle the Swede. The greatest egotist on the planet is probably the only international footballer who generates as much positive interest in what he says off the pitch as he does on it. With Zlatan, you get the whole package.
There is no sportsman, never mind footballer, who could seriously consider having their face put on stamps [as Ibrahimovic’s will be in his native Sweden] without masses of criticism. But he’s OK, because he’s Zlatan.
There is also no doubting the mega-talent that the 32-year-old is with a football at is feet, and there can be no question that the Swede is a major asset to any tournament. His standing in the game as one of the great players is in no doubt; 10 league titles in the last 11 years alongside a host of personal triumphs and awards sees to that.
The conclusion: Zlatan is immense. Yet, despite these personal and professional accolades, why was I [along with millions of others] so desperate to see Ronaldo spend his summer in Brazil?
Simply put: because Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world, and the world’s best tournament is not the same without the world’s leading player.
This conclusion would, I’m sure, ruffle a few feathers of the Messi die-hards. But, when analysing 2013, Ronaldo has over-taken the hamstrung Argentine. Ronaldo is favourite for the Ballon d’Or for a reason.
A part of this has been to do with the injuries that have plagued Messi throughout the season. Four hamstring tears in a year is likely to affect anybody’s form-even that of a footballing genius.
But to focus on Messi’s fitness issues too much would be to diminish Ronaldo’s remarkable season. And what a season it has been. To run through some stats, in his last 24 appearances, Ronaldo has scored 34 goals at a rate of 1.42 goals a game [the nearest is Ibrahimovic with 1.00 goals per game].
He has scored eight goals in the Champions League this season, which is more than all but eight of the 32 teams participating. With his hat-trick for his country on Tuesday, he is now Portugal’s all-time leading joint scorer with 47 goals. To summarise in simple terms, he has been in unbelievable form.
It is this sort of form that means that the World Cup would be much worse off without his presence. These tournaments are run by the teams and players that are in the form of their life.
Remember Andrey Arshavin at Euro 2008? A, frankly, rubbish Germany team’s run to the final/Trevor Sinclair’s inclusion at the 2002 World Cup? All selections and performances centred around the men in the best form.
The continued brilliance of Ronaldo this season, therefore, means that if he continues in the same rich vein of form he has started he will be unplayable in Brazil. Rather than watching from his home, he will be the man to watch. And isn’t that just what the world wants to see?
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