Ronaldo topples Zlatan: Real Madrid star’s hat trick sends Portugal past Sweden, into the 2014 World Cup

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aj2cTazTgV8]

It was the type of shootout you’d see on a basketball course, not a soccer field: Two players, one-on-one, their teammates fading into insignificance as alpha tried to one-up alpha. You saw it in Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s determination, his second half brace temporarily leaving Sweden one goal away from the World Cup. and you saw it in Cristiano Ronaldo’s elation, the Real Madrid star’s stern “right here” declarations celebrating his tie-sealing goal.

For as tedious as the pre-match hype was — everybody trying to portray Portugal against Sweden as Cristiano Ronaldo versus Zlatan Ibrahimovic — that’s exactly what we got. It too three halves to surface, but by the end of Portugal and Sweden’s playoff, it was all about the two icons, stars trying to eclipse each other in front of a full house in Solna. After two legs and 180 minutes, two of the world’s top three players had combined for six goals.

But thanks to a Swedish defense that was beaten badly three times, four of those goals went to Ronaldo, whose Tuesday hat trick sent his hosts crashing. Despite a second half brace from Ibrahimovic, Sweden will miss their second straight World Cup, today’s 3-2 loss allowing Portugal to advance to Brazil 2014 (4-2, aggregate).

Portugal joined the day’s other six qualifiers to bring the World Cup field to 30, with France eliminating Ukraine shortly after the final whistle in Sweden. Ghana and Algeria won their African qualifying playoffs earlier today, while Greece and Croatia defeated Romania and Iceland in Europe.

[MORE: Historic comeback sees France into World Cup 2014, Ukraine denied place in Brazil]

[MORE: Europe World Cup playoff roundup: Greece, Croatia complete UEFA’s field for Brazil 2014]

[MORE: Ghana finish off Egypt to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil; what now for Bob Bradley?]

Over the next two days, the final two World Cup 2014 spots will be decided. Uruguay carries a 5-0 lead over Jordan into the teams’ second leg in Montevideo (Wednesday), while Mexico is likely to advance past New Zealand on Tuesday night, having earned a 5-1 lead last week in Mexico City.

From the early moments today in at Friends Arena, it was clear that Ronaldo’s late goal in Lisbon would allow Portugal to play from their more comfortable, counterattacking posture. Conceding Sweden the ball and electing to stay organized rather than pursue, the Seleccao were able to rely on their transition to dominate the first half. Though Sweden held 56 percent of the ball, they were outshot 9-3 in the first half, a 40th minute header from Hugo Almeida nearly doubling Portugal’s 1-0 lead.

source: AP
Two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic pulled Sweden even with Portugal, away goals the only thing separating the sides. Portugal went on to win on aggregate, 4-2. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Five minutes into the second half, Portugal had their two-goal advantage, a counter that left Ronaldo behind the Swedish defense ending with a left-footed shot from 12 yards out into the right of goal. Beating a high defensive line, Ronaldo cut across right back Martin Olsson to get onto an João Moutinho ball play through central defense. Moments later, alone on goal, the Real Madrid star’s second goal of the playoff had the visitors up two.

But in a playoff that was billed as Ronaldo versus Zlatan, it was time for Ibrahimovic to step up. In the 68th minute, a corner from Kim Källström saw the Paris Saint-Germain star out-muscle Bruno Alves at the edge of the six-yard box, his header into the left of Rui Patricio’s net cutting Portugal’s lead to one. Four minutes later, the Seleccao were left with only their tiebreaker edge, an Ibrahimovic free kick from just outside the penalty box pulling his team event.

But again, Sweden’s high line would be victimized. From the left this time, Ronaldo was left to go in alone on goal once more, sprinting past the Swedish defense at the center line for an eventual chance from the left of goal. Burying is shot in the far corner, the Portuguese captain made it 2-2 (3-2 on aggregate).

Their lessons unlearned, Sweden allowed themselves to be beaten again in two minutes later, a turnover in midfield quickly converted into an open chance when Moutinho found Ronaldo streaking across right back Mikarl Lustig. After drawing Isaksson out, Ronaldo put his right-footed shot into the top of the Swedish next, completing his hat trick.

With their 3-2 win in Solna, Portugal had navigated their third straight major tournament qualifying playoff, but after 180 minutes that produced six goals from Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, few are likely to remember the matchup’s context. Instead, the same fascination that dominated the buildup with write the history of Portugal-Sweden. With four goals over two games, Ronaldo earned his spot in next year’s World Cup, but with two goals in five minutes of Tuesday’s second half, Ibrahimovic did his part to ensure the show delivered on its promise.

Own goal the difference as Spurs best Everton

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A first-half own goal sent hosts Tottenham Hotspur to a 1-0 win over Everton in North London on Monday.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Giovani Lo Celso’s shot took a wicked deflection off an unknowing Michael Keane to fool Jordan Pickford and give Spurs a much-needed win.

TOTTENHAM – EVERTON FULL MATCH REPLAY

Spurs move onto 48 points, seven back of fifth-place Manchester United. The North Londoners are one point behind Arsenal ahead of this weekend’s big derby (though there’s still a Thursday visit to Bournemouth for Spurs).

It was the first defeat since the restart for Everton. The Toffees’ 44 points have Carlo Ancelotti’s men 11th, four points off the Europa League spots.


Three things we learned

1. Mourinho peak-Mourinho versus Ancelotti: We can’t judge either manager’s tenure at their new club yet, but the home team’s boss used the tools at his disposal to frustrate Everton’s attack. Hopefully we get to see two Spurs-Everton duels next season with new weapons at both clubs. Odds are Spurs still might look a lot like this even with new pieces. That’s how Mou like to fight his way out of a slump.

2. Everton generates little: Maybe Richarlison isn’t at full fitness or perhaps the midfielders just didn’t have danger in them today. Maybe both, but key scorer. Dominic Calvert-Lewin joined strike partner Richarlison in struggling to produce good chances in an ugly-enough loss.

3. Tempers rise for Lloris, Son: All might seem well for a team leading a very decent visitor at halftime, but Hugo Lloris had to be restrained from Heung-min Son on the way off the field after 45 minutes. It was unclear why the South Korean star became a target of the French backstop’s ire, the broadcast team later showing that Lloris may have been angry with the forward not tracking back after a stoppage-time error. The pair were then shown hugging in the tunnel before returning for the second half.

Man of the Match

Lo Celso — And not because of the goal considering his shot was heading wide when it turned off Keane. Clearly comfortable at the PL level now, Lo Celso was a joy to watch on Monday. An early flubbed possession was an outlier, the 24-year-old Argentine showing a good range of passing while getting stuck into duels and making three tackles.


Tottenham – Everton recap

A sleepy, feeling-out first 20 minutes yield to excitement in an instant when Lucas Moura snapped a hard shot from distance past Everton keeper Jordan Pickford but also the post.

Spurs’ opener came after Everton blocked two successive shots only to see the third shot take a hard turn off Michael Keane to defy Pickford for 1-0 just before the first half water break.

Lo Celso then won a free kick off Mason Holgate on the edge of the 18, the English defender earning a yellow for his hard sliding challenge.

There was little to love in the second half, a cagey affair indeed. Pickford made a nice save on Son, while Moise Kean’s late shot through Eric Dier’s legs was scooped up by Lloris.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

WATCH: Lloris, Son separated by teammates at halftime

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All might have seemed well for Tottenham Hotspur holding a 1-0 lead over Everton at halftime of a big Premier League encounter on Monday in North London.

But normally calm goalkeeper Hugo Lloris had to be restrained from Heung-min Son on the way off the field after 45 minutes.

[ MORE: Sargent, Bremen pull off great escape ]

It was unclear why the South Korean star became a target of the French backstop’s ire, but the broadcast team showed that Lloris may have been angry with the forward not tracking back after a stoppage-time error allowed a chance to the Toffees.

Our crew breaks down the incident above, as two unlikely combatants needed to be separated before being caught making amends in the tunnel before the second half.

We’re unlikely to hear anything revelatory from Jose Mourinho about the incident after the match, but he’ll surely be asked about an odd one that clearly turned out okay.

Sargent, Werder Bremen avoid Bundesliga relegation (video)

Werder Bremen avoids relegation
Photo by Pool/Ronald Wittek/Pool via Getty Images
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Werder Bremen is staying the Bundesliga on away goals after a 2-2 draw at Heidenheim in the second leg of the promotion/relegation playoff preserved their place in Germany’s top flight.

Bremen’s American forward Josh Sargent had a front-row seat for the decisive goal, getting the last touch before Norman Theuerkauf put it in his own goal in the third minute.

Heidenheim thickened the drama late when Tim Kleindienst put home the rebound of a shot smashed off the crossbar in the 85th, but a grinder’s effort from veteran Fin Bartels to set up Ludwig Augustinsson in stoppage time put the tie to bed. Heidenheim added a penalty at the death as Kleindienst finished his brace.

[ MORE: Marsch named Coach of the Year ]

Bremen avoids its first relegation in nearly 40 years. Heidenheim finished third in 2.Bundesliga while Bremen was third-bottom of Bundesliga.

Sargent, 20, worked his way into becoming a Bremen regular this season, featuring in its last 17 league matches and both playoff matches. He started Monday, one of 15 starts between the Bundesliga and playoffs. He finished the season with four goals and four assists.

His stats over 88 minutes were good. Sargent had two shots on target, one blocked, completed two of four dribbles, and influenced the own goal (SofaScore). One of his shots saved could’ve easily been a goal but it did not cost Bremen. The industrious Sargent was involved in 24 duels and drew two fouls.

Manager Florian Kohfeldt asked Sargent to run his shorts off and press hard at forward and Bremen was not good at getting service to anyone this season. Sargent will have hardened his game this season and can now claim to be a part of one of the greatest escapes in Bundesliga history.

An editorial note of pure opinion: Keep an eye on Heidenheim’s Niklas Dorsch, a Bayern Munich academy product who drove Heidenheim with influential performances all season. Unsure there’s another year in the second tier for him.

Arsenal – Leicester City preview: How to watch, start time, stream, odds, prediction

Arsenal - Leicester City preview
Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
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Arsenal – Leicester City presents a litmus test for two big names seeking to put a stamp on young tenures at Premier League clubs.

Mikel Arteta and Brendan Rodgers match wits at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday with pivotal table positioning on the line (Watch live at 3:15pm ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester’s 58 points are good enough for third place but a tepid run-of-form saw the side slip from a virtual guaranteed spot in the Champions League to a possible Europa League competitor.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Arsenal meanwhile has driven itself into eighth place after a very poor start to the season, its 49 points six points behind fifth-place Manchester United and nine behind the visiting Foxes.

Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers signed a new deal with Leicester despite being linked with the Arsenal job before Arteta took the reins in North London.

Team news

Leicester is waiting on two key pieces. James Maddison has been out and there’s guarantee he’ll return, while Ben Chilwell joined the walking wounded in the Foxes’ 3-0 defeat of Crystal Palace.

Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi remain on the outside-looking-in for Arsenal.

What they’re saying

Leicester forward Ayoze Perez on chasing the UCL“We need to make sure we protect what we’ve done so far and we can celebrate something important for us. (Manchester United on the last day) could be like a final you know. We’ll see. Football is not predictable at all. We’ve still got a couple of tough games to play. Hopefully by then we are already qualified. It would mean a lot (to qualify). I’ve not made my debut in the Champions League and It’s something you dream for always. The way we’ve done it, and for Leicester, it could mean a lot. It’s not done yet.”

Mikel Arteta on Arsenal’s Champions League hopes“I think we have to win every game and then wait and pray. It’s not about a game, we need to go game-by-game. A few weeks ago we were really far from thinking about Europe and we are a little bit closer at the moment so lets go game by game and see where that takes us.”

Odds and ends (full matchweek odds)

Arsenal is favored to win at +125 compared to Leicester’s +220, via DraftKings. A draw goes for +245.

Jamie Vardy and James Maddison scored in a 2-0 Leicester win over the Gunners at the King Power Stadium earlier this season.

Arsenal – Leicester City Prediction

Leicester could handle the loss of Chilwell but the absence of Maddison has been notable even in the win over Palace. Both teams have tremendous creators and Youri Tielemans has been wonderful for Leicester, but Arsenal have a bit more and the Foxes do have the injury issues even if both of their ailing stars can go. Arsenal 2-0.

How to watch Arsenal – Leicester City stream, start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Tuesday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com