Following a dramatic night of World Cup play-off action in Europe, four teams emerged to join the nine group winners as UEFA representatives in the 2014 summer tournament to be staged in Brazil. The victories of Greece and Croatia were perhaps fairly predictable but for the other two ties, the impact may not just affect the respective national teams and supporters.
Scenes of despair among home fans were very much in evidence when Cristiano Ronaldo delivered the killer blow by completing his hat-trick in the Portuguese 3-2 victory on Swedish soil. Portugal had led 1-0 from the first leg but Zlatan Ibrahimovic had fired Sweden into a 2-1 lead before the late salvo from the Real Madrid striker.
Ibrahimovic subsequently indicated that he will not be watching the World Cup as he reflects on his own personal misfortune. His mental state will need to be monitored by Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) over the next few weeks as they seek to retain their Ligue 1 title and progress in the Champions League. They can ill-afford to allow their main striker and arguably most influential player to lose form and his appetite for the game in the coming critical months.
By contrast, Real Madrid should enjoy the benefits of a contented Ronaldo and a mightily relieved Karim Benzema who was involved in a night of footballing drama for his native country at Stade de France. In just four days, the despair amongst Didier Deschamps ‘Les Bleus’ squad following a 2-0 defeat by Ukraine has been replaced by exhilaration as they claimed a 3-0 second leg victory, albeit with the help of a controversial second goal scored by Benzema.
For Newcastle United in the English Premier League, the France result must have also been greeted with great relief. Not only were four of the current first team members selected by Deschamps for the national squad, but there are several more French players based with the Tyneside club. Imagine the mood of despondency among the Magpies team had France failed to secure their place in Brazil.
Manager Alan Pardew may now view the remainder of the season with more optimism in the expectancy that his French contingent will be striving to earn and cement their places in the World Cup finals squad by producing determined performances on the pitch.
Indeed, for many domestic league clubs tasked with motivating fringe and established international players alike, the next few months could yield contrasting mental issues as the countdown to the Brazil tournament begins.
Latest posts by John Welsh (see all)
- The Premier League title destination remains uncertain in an unpredictable season to date - December 31, 2015
- England win opening test as South African batting frailties are exposed - December 30, 2015
- Cue Card and Sprinter Sacre erase the nightmares of their miserable 2013 Christmas - December 29, 2015