Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal advance
SOLNA, Sweden (AP)
Portugal qualified for next year's World Cup on Tuesday after a superb hat trick from Cristiano Ronaldo secured a 3-2 win over Sweden and a 4-2 victory on aggregate in their playoff.
There was disappointment for Iceland, however, after the Nordic country failed in its bid to become the least populous nation to reach football's biggest stage after losing to Croatia on a thrilling final night of European qualification.
Ronaldo came out on top in his personal duel with fellow superstar Ibrahimovic, whose brace in Stockholm was upstaged by the Real Madrid forward's three brilliant goals in 29 second-half minutes. Portugal won 3-2 for a 4-2 aggregate victory.
France overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit to Ukraine by winning 3-0 in Paris, with strikes by Mamadou Sakho and Karim Benzema as well as an own goal ensuring Les Bleus qualified for a 10th consecutive major tournament.
Iceland lost 2-0 to 10-man Croatia at Zabreb and was eliminated by the same score on aggregate, and Greece was the other European nation to make it to Brazil through the playoffs after drawing 1-1 in Romania to progress 4-2 overall.
The list of African qualifiers was completed with Ghana advancing 7-3 on aggregate over Egypt despite a 2-1 loss in Cairo and Algeria progressing on away goals at the expense of Burkino Faso. Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Cameroon had already won their playoffs.
The final two berths for the 32-team World Cup will be secured on Wednesday, with Uruguay protecting a 5-0 lead over Jordan and Mexico 5-1 up on New Zealand heading into the second legs of their intercontinental playoffs. The draw for the group stage of the 2014 World Cup takes place in Bahia, Brazil, on Dec. 6.
Spain endured a miserable return to the scene of its World Cup triumph in 2010, losing 1-0 to South Africa at FNB Stadium - the venue formerly known as Soccer City - in one of a host of international friendlies.
A virtually second-string Germany team sent fierce rival England to back-to-back losses at Wembley Stadium for the first time in 36 years by winning 1-0, and Netherlands played with 10 men for almost an hour but still drew 0-0 with Colombia.
While France was engineering the greatest recovery of the playoffs, Ronaldo proved once again he is the man for the big occasion. He continued a prolific season in which he could yet wrestle the World Player of the Year award from great rival Lionel Messi.
He already trumped Ibrahimovic once in this campaign by scoring the winner in the first leg on Friday, but the rivalry between arguably the two biggest showmen in the sport climbed to new levels at the Friends Arena.
Ronaldo opened the scoring in the 50th minute but Ibrahimovic netted twice in four minutes to level the score on aggregate and give Sweden hope. That was quickly extinguished by two pieces of brilliance from Ronaldo, who burst through to power home a left-footed in the 77th before latching onto another through-ball and smashing into the roof of the net two minutes later.
His second hat trick in international football, to go with his 24 at club level for Manchester United and Real Madrid, sparked jubilant scenes of celebration as Portugal's coaching staff and substitutes spilled onto the pitch.
That was possibly the last chance for the 32-year-old Ibrahimovic to play at a World Cup, but football fans will be thrilled that both Ronaldo and France's Franck Ribery - two of the favorites for this year's Ballon d'Or - will be in Brazil.