When Sweden and Portugal contested a UEFA World Cup play-off tie over two legs back in November 2013, it was generally recognised as a contest to decide which of two World class footballers would not feature in the summer tournament. Portugal won both games but Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo were the only scorers of the six goals netted in the two legs, yet both strikers were also the subject of much talk during this week’s Champions League quarter-final second legs.
Both the Swedish forward Ibrahimovic and Portuguese striker Ronaldo were absent from duties due to injury but Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and Real Madrid both suffered 2-0 second leg defeats without their prized assets.
For PSG, the loss of Ibrahimovic proved to be a crucial blow as they were beaten by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and were eliminated on the away goals rule following a 3-3 aggregate draw. Although, Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi were asked to share striking duties by manager Laurent Blanc, PSG appeared to lack the flair and creative instincts normally provided by the Swede.
When Chelsea were chasing the game during the later stages of the second half, the counter-attacking tactics employed by PSG would surely have been enhanced by the invention of Ibrahimovic and he may have injected more fear into the home defence.
Over in Germany, Real Madrid arrived at Signal Iduna Park with a 3-0 first leg aggregate lead but fielded a team without Ronaldo. Opponents Borussia Dortmund must have drawn confidence from his absence and after Angel Di Maria missed an early penalty to seal the tie, Marco Reus fired them into a 2-0 first half lead.
After Dortmund had beaten Real 4-1 at home in last season’s semi-final first leg, manager Carlo Ancelotti must have feared the worst especially with Ronaldo having scored Madrid’s only goal that night. Borussia manager Jurgen Klopp maintained an attacking formation for the second half with striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang entering the contest with ten minutes remaining, but the German team failed to pierce the away defence again.
Ancelotti had decided not to risk Ronaldo due to a niggling minor injury allowing Borussia less reason to worry about the opposition attack without the presence of their top scorer on the pitch. Fortunately, Real survived the expected onslaught but an away goal would have clinched the tie much earlier as they claimed an aggregate win by the narrowest of margins.
As in the World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo does progress further in the competition but for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he can only reflect on what might have been had he not damaged a hamstring in the first leg.
Both players have proved their worth for their country, but in their respective absences for crucial Champions League legs, their value to the team is that much more apparent.