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?

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.

Podolski goes out with super goal; Germany tops England

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The highlight of Wednesday’s international friendly docket was Lukas Podolski‘s final match for Germany, and the former Arsenal man did not disappoint his crowd.

But first, Canada plays its first match since unveiling new coach Octavio Zambrano.

[ MORE: Zlatan still bitter with Guardiola ]

Scotland 1-1 Canada

Zambrano saw plenty to like from his new side, as Canada went ahead early with a goal from former Scottish youth Fraser Aird. Toronto-born, the ex-Rangers and current Falkirk man got his first Canadian goal against the team he represented at U-17 and U-19 levels.

Norwich City’s Steven Naismith redirected Tom Cairney‘s shot to make it 1-1 before the break, but Scotland never found its way back into Canada’s net.

Germany 1-0 England

Lukas Podolski scored his 49th international goal in his final cap for Germany, and it was spectacular.

Joe Hart didn’t stand a chance.

The match saw big stops from both ‘keepers, as Hart thwarted Leroy Sane on a second half break after Marc-Andre Ter Stegen defied Dele Alli in the opening 45.

Podolski subbed off in the 84th minute to wild applause, but it must sting slightly to know you finished an illustrious career one goal short of a nice, round 50. We guess he’ll have to rest on his millions and millions of earnings and loads of on-field honors.

Elsewhere
Vietnam 1-1 Chinese Taipei
Philippines 0-0 Malaysia
Cyprus 3-1 Kazakhstan
Yemen 0-1 Palestine
Cambodia 2-3 India

McClean to wear No. 5 in honor of deceased ex-teammate

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James McClean is a colorful personality who doesn’t shy away from strong opinions — he once called Jurgen Klopp “a bit of an idiot” — and the West Brom man is using the big stage of World Cup qualifying to proudly honor a deceased ex-teammate.

McClean has long before friends with Derry City captain Ryan McBride, who shockingly died hours after leading his side to a league win this weekend. Given his age (27), few saw it coming even after McBride admitted to feeling ill after the match.

[ MORE: Zlatan still bitter with Guardiola ]

McBride and McClean played together at Derry, and the latter was excused from Republic of Ireland training to attend funeral services this week.

He’s still expected to play a role in Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Wales on Friday, and McClean will don the No. 5 of McBride. Irish defender Richard Keogh usually wears the number and agreed to the change.