Ronaldo will spearhead a talented Portuguese team. Can the U.S. defense stop him?

Portugal: “Ronaldo best in world” but Ibrahimovic brushes battle off

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Ahead of Portugal’s crunch first leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff against Sweden in Lisbon on Friday, Portuguese head coach Paulo Bento is adamant he has the best player in the world right now captaining his side.

For weeks since the draw was made pitting Portugal against Sweden for a place at the 2014 World Cup, the clash has been billed as a head on duel between Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The winner over these next two games will go to the World Cup, the other will be sulking at home all summer. This match up is monumental.

When asked who is the better player, Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic, Bento was crystal clear.

“For me it’s Ronaldo, without a doubt in my opinion,” Bento said. “He’s the player who has shown extraordinary quality and form throughout the year. It would be unfair if he doesn’t win the Ballon D’or this year for his performances, quality and professionalism. Regardless of what happens, for me, he is the best player in the world right now. No doubt.”

(MORE: Watch – Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Who You Got?)

As for Zlatan, the 32-year-old Swedish international was sheepish when asked about facing Ronaldo’s Portugal and the individual battle.

“It’s no me talking about Ibrahimovic against Ronaldo, it’s the media talking about it,” Ibrahimovic said. “It doesn’t disturb me at all. This is part of my professional work, we don’t decide who to talk about, it’s the media. They’ve built up this tension around the game.”

What a game it promises to be in Lisbon… (watch live on ESPN Deportes at 2:40pm ET) but who will have the edge?

Let’s take a look at the stats from World Cup qualifying so far.

Ronaldo has played eight times for Portugal, scoring four goals and adding two assist. While Ibra had played nine times and smashed home six goals and six assists.

Billed by many as a clash between two of soccer’s most talented yet cocky, stars, be sure you don’t miss out on what could be one of the greatest head-to-head battles for quite some time in international soccer.

My money is on Ronaldo to do the business, who’ve you got?

U.S. U-20 midfield star leaves FC Dallas for a role with Schalke

schalke04.de/en
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Another Yank youngster has landed in Germany.

Weston McKinnie, 18, has starred for the United States U-20 team as well as FC Dallas’ Academy, and has been in demand.

[ MORE: Americans Abroad news ]

The club is Schalke, a Bundesliga outfit which has had an exceptional offseason. McKinnie joins the U-19 side, and is billed by Schalke as a midfielder who “can be deployed as part of a two-man central midfield or in the number 10 role.”

From Schalkeo4.de/en:

“He’s a player who convinced us with his robustness and game awareness,” said academy director Oliver Ruhnert. “In the US he is one of the best footballers for his age. He is also a youth national team player and has also captained his team. He brings a lot of qualities with him, especially to the mental side of his game. We are therefore convinced that Weston is capable of becoming a professional footballer. The transfer therefore makes a lot of sense.”

McKinnie, if you haven’t read his name before, is absolutely one to remember. The Schalke man joins a club with a good track record for Americans. Chad Deering, Thomas Dooley, and David Wagner have also represented the United States for the Miners.

WATCH and LISTEN: Our Deadline Day show, and the 2 Robbies talk transfers

Robbie Earle & Robbie Mustoe, The 2 Robbies
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Deadline Day was kinda nuts, am I right?

There’s a lot to digest, and we’ve covered a lot of it in this space.

But in case you need more — and who doesn’t want a bit more Premier League? — we’ve got a stream of Wednesday’s TV show covering the deadline, and the 2 Robbies talking transfers.

LISTEN: The 2 Robbies Transfer Deadline Day podcast

REWATCH: Wednesday’s Deadline Day show

Now onto the business of the Premier League’s nascent season. Who was boosted by today’s moves? Who took a hit?

Report: USWNT legend Heather O’Reilly set to retire from soccer

BIRMINGHAM, AL - SEPTEMBER 20:  Heather O'Reilly #9 of the United States of America reacts after scoring a goal against Haiti during the US Women's 2015 World Cup victory tour match at Legion Field on September 20, 2015 in Birmingham, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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She has the seventh-most caps and the sixth-most assists in United States women’s national team history, and she’s also calling it a day.

Excelle Sports is reporting that Heather O’Reilly is retiring at the age of 31. The FC Kansas City player will likely play her final match in September, as the 2015 champs have all-but been eliminated from the playoffs.

[ MORE: Five big Deadline Day signings ]

O’Reilly had 230 caps, 46 goals, and 54 assists for the USWNT team. She’s one of only a few players to have more than 45 goals and 50 assists (Julie Foudy, Tiffeny Milbrett, Shannon MacMillan, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly).

One of many successful products of Anson Dorrance’s UNC program, “HAO” spent her club career with New Jersey Wildcats, Sky Blue FC, and Boston Breakers before joining FCKC.

O’Reilly was left off the Olympic roster this summer, named as an alternate. She could’ve been useful — of course hindsight is 20/20 — and it’ll be odd watching more USWNT matches without HAO.

International roundup: Schweinsteiger, Keane say goodbye; Denmark bags five

Germany's national team throws their captain Bastian Schweinsteiger into the air after he played his last match for the national team in Moenchengladbach, Germany, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Germany won the friendly soccer match against Finland with 2-0. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Two mainstays of the international game are done with that part of their career following shutout wins on Wednesday, just two of several friendlies early in this international break.

[ MORE: Five big Deadline Day signings ]

Germany 2-0 Finland

Max Meyer picked up from his remarkable Olympics by firing home, and Mesut Ozil also scored for the Germans in a match that was not about the winner. Bastian Schweinsteiger called it a day on his international career in the win, his 121st cap. The Manchester United man finishes his career with 24 goals, a World Cup title and a EURO runner-up finish. Not too shabby.

Ireland 4-0 Oman

ROI all-time leading scorer Robbie Keane fittingly ended his tenure as an international player with yet another goal, bringing his career tally to 68 goals in 146 caps. Stoke City’s Jon Walters scored twice for the Boys in Green, and Robbie Brady (Norwich) also netted in the win.

Denmark 5-0 Liechtenstein

It took the hosts a half-hour to break down the visitors, but a pair from Feyenoord striker Nicolai Jorgensen opened the floodgates and Andreas Cornelius, Viktor Fischer and Jens Stryger Larsen finished the scoring in a blowout at the CASA Arena in Horsens. It was Larsen’s first cap.

Elsewhere
Turkey 0-0 Russia
Albania 0-0 Morocco
Estonia 1-1 Malta
Norway 0-1 Belarus
Lebanon 1-1 Jordan