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Leg 1
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Republic of IrelandRepublic of Ireland
Leg 2Aggregate: 1 - 5
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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

'Ibrahimovic is better than Ronaldo'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been rated as the best footballer in the world by Sweden coach Erik Hamren ahead of their World Cup qualifier first leg playoff against Portugal on Friday evening.

• Marcotti: Ibrahimovic the antihero
• Brewin: View from the ground
• Cox: Four potential playoff difference makers
• Brassell: Ronaldo cast in perfect light

Sweden captain Ibrahimovic has been in free-scoring form for Paris Saint-Germain this season, including a hat trick against Nice in Ligue 1 last Saturday, making him a contender for the Ballon d’Or alongside Ronaldo.

But Ronaldo has again spearheaded Real Madrid’s attack, scoring 27 times already this campaign also scoring a hat trick in the 5-1 La Liga win against Real Sociedad.

Hamren, however, believes Ibrahimovic is the better player, saying: "Zlatan for me is number one.

"He is a world-class player, he is my captain and he is playing for Sweden.

"I say that he is the very best."

The match has been billed as a showdown between Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo, and Hamren is confident his captain can be the one to decide the match.

"Of course, it’s a fight between these two world-class players,' he added at a news conference at Lisbon’s Stadium of Light.

"Zlatan needs support but if he gets that from the team then he can be the match winner.

"He has been scoring well recently, so that’s good. But so has Ronaldo so maybe their form is pretty even.

"All I know is that Zlatan is in really good shape. He’s feeling strong and that’s good for us."

Ibrahimovic has also been highlighted by former Paris Saint-Germain and Portugal forward Pauleta as the main dangerman.

Asked what Portugal have to do to win the game, Pauleta said: “Deprive him [Ibrahimovic] of the ball.

"We have more well-known players who play in big clubs. But they have great collective strength.

"They're a physically strong team which don't leave you a lot of space. To be able to beat them, we have to play our game, keep the ball and score.

"We hope Ronaldo will play well. With Ibra, he's the other player who can make the difference."

Pauleta disagrees with Hamren’s claim that Ibrahimovic is the best, insisting that it is his former international teammate who is No. 1.

"In my eyes, Cristiano is the best player in the world. I got to know him when he was still a kid [at Euro 2004]. Already, he had a lot of confidence in himself. He wanted to be the best and had a lot of ambition.

"He's always been a respectful boy and has stayed humble. He's got a very charming personality, which is nothing like the way he is portrayed.

"It's a real shame both [Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo] cannot go, if only for the show they would put on.

"To be deprived of one or the other is really tough. But of course I hope Cristiano will be there. Portugal has been at all the major competitions since 2000. And Brazil is special for us, it's a country we're close to."

Meanwhile, both countries’ defenders have been preparing ways to stop the attacking duo.

Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist revealed that they are willing to put two players on Ronaldo in an effort to stop his attacking threat.

"A key will be to have the nerve to get tight on him, maybe double up so that he doesn’t get much time,” he said. “Clearly he’s one of the best players in the world and he’s coming into this with great form."

Portugal defender Bruno Alves is confident that halting Ibrahimovic, who has scored 46 international goals, will nullify the threat of the Sweden side altogether.

"We can stop him, " Alves said. "But it means stopping the whole Sweden team because if he doesn’t get the ball he can’t do much."


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