Portugal boss Paulo Bento says keeping a clean sheet in last Saturday’s first leg of the World Cup playoff with Sweden was the key to their progress into the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals sent Portugal into a sixth appearance at the FIFA World Cup as the battle between two of the world’s most superfluous forwards ended with the Real Madrid superstar grabbing a hat-trick in Stockholm, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic could only net an encouraging brace.
Bento’s side were already one-goal up in the wake of Tuesday night’s second leg and dominated before Ronaldo smashed in an angled drive to silence the crowd gathered at the Friend Arena.
Paris St-Germain forward Ibrahimovic leveled with a free header before he lashed in a free-kick to give the hosts some iota of expectations and relief.
But Ronaldo’s quickfire goals in the space of 1 minute 58 seconds sealed a 4-2 aggregate victory for Portugal who will be appearing in their 4 successive World Cup in Brazil.
“Qualification was fair, and we have to enjoy the moment,” Said Bento.
“We must also congratulate all the players who were not involved in the game and those who took part in the process of us reaching the World Cup.
After failing to score in Lisbon, Sweden were less impressive in the first-half and created few clear-cut chances to cancel Portugal’s slender advantage. The pair of Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic lived up to expectation as a remarkable second-half witnessed five goals from the pair in a 29-minute burst.
“Not conceding goals in the first game was a big part of our strategy,” added Bento.
“In the first-half tonight we were not as we could have been but we will dominated- but we have to remember the players were under a great deal of pressure.
“Since 2000, Portugal has made every finals without a break and this generation needs to be congratulated.”
Bento feels the pressure of Ibrahimovic’s equaliser made them step up their game.
“We have shown that we play better when we are under more pressure than when we are ahead,” the coach opined.
“At 1-0 we had no problems and we dominated the first-half, even though the first 30 minutes we were unable to play in the final third of the field.
“After our goal, we suffered two set pieces but we respond well and it was a deserved victory.”
On Ronaldo’s performance he added: “What can you say about a player who scores a hat-trick in a game like this, which of course has a very strong effect on the end result?”
France 3-0 Ukraine (Agg. 3-2)
Les Blues overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit to clinch Brazil 2014 ticket with a thrilling 3-0 victory over 10-man Ukraine.
Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho’s derisive goal each half was crucial to France’s victory as he tucked in Franck Ribery’s shot and concerted Yohan Cabaye’s cross for the winner.
In between, Karim Benzema scored from an offside position, having been wrongly denied by the assistant referee earlier.
France went into the interval 2-0 up before Ukraine’s Yevhen Khacheridi was sent off early in the second-half.
The 1998 World Cup hosts and winners became the first European team to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit to avoid the ill-luck of 1994 when they missed out of the same tournament.
Romania 1-1 Greece (Agg. 2-4)
Greece booked their place at the 2014 World Cup with a 1-1 draw in Romania to complete a 4-2 aggregate play-off win.
Leading 3-1 from the first leg, the Greeks soaked up some early pressure before Konstantinos Mitroglou beat the offside trap to put them ahead.
Romania were gifted a bizarre equaliser after the break when Greece defender Jose Holebas’s clearance hit Vasilios Torosidis and span into the net.
But Greece saw out the rest of the game to ensure they will be going to Brazil.
Croatia 2-0 Iceland (Agg. 2-0)
Ten-man Croatia reached the 2014 World Cup finals with a 2-0 win over Iceland in Zagreb following a goalless first leg.
Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic scored first in the 27th minute – but was sent off for a challenge on Johann Gudmundsson just before half-time.
Shakhtar Donetsk’s Darijo Srna secured the win with a low drive from inside the box early in the second half.
Iceland are still waiting to appear in their first major tournament finals.
(Information from the BBC and Sky Sport was used in this report.)