Ahead of the World Cup playoffs, Cristiano Ronaldo netted a hat-trick in Real Madrid’s 5-1 win over Real Sociedad. Over in Paris, Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 3 identical goals to his Portuguese counterpart as PSG secured a 3-1 victory at the expense of Nice. While it’s perhaps the norm for the duo, their exploits are perhaps all the more pertinent considering the two will face off twice over the next 8 days.
Portugal and Sweden were drawn together to determine who would partake in next summer’s elite football competition and while supporters are looking forward to the upcoming double-header, one of either Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic will miss the World Cup, such was the lottery of the draw. With 39 league and Champions League goals between them, to quote the tagline from ‘Alien vs Predator’: “Whoever wins…we lose”.
As exaggerated as that may seem, supporters flock to games to admire the very best players and both Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic match this category of performer. Focusing initially on the former, Ronaldo has secured an average WhoScored rating of 8.38 in both La Liga and the Champions League this term, scoring 24 times, while his 16 goals in Spain’s top tier means he’s currently the top goalscorer in Europe’s top 5 leagues.
Picking up 5 assists over both competitions highlights how important he is to the Real Madrid starting XI, regardless of the acquisition of Gareth Bale for a world record £85m in the summer. This is further denoted in that in the 93 La Liga games Ronaldo has scored in since signing in 2009, Real have never lost, winning 87 and drawing 6. His impact is further accentuated in the 3 man of the match awards he’s received this season, and perhaps more so when taking into account the high level of quality of his teammates.
In relation to the Primera Division, it’s little surprise to see that only Lionel Messi (8.34) is rated higher than Ronaldo, although that may well change considering Messi is set to be ruled out until January 2014 with a hamstring problem, given the form Ronaldo is in. The 28-year-old’s return this term fully justifies his impressive rating, with the forward having scored the most free kicks (2), the most goals from inside the penalty area (14), had the most shots (103) and the most shots on target (44) in La Liga, while no player has scored more clear-cut goalscoring opportunities (10) than the Real star.
Coupled with Messi’s injury, many now believe the former Manchester United forward to be the favourite to land the Ballon d’Or in January and wouldn’t begrudge Ronaldo the award after a blistering start to the season. As a result, there are supporters who believe he is the more deserving of a place at the World Cup, regardless of some, at times, ineffectual displays for the Portugal national team.
However, it’s all but impossible to completely rule out Ibrahimovic as being the bigger loss to next summer's tournament in Rio. The powerful Swede has been nominated for the FIFA Puskás Award for the “best goal of the year” following his overhead kick against England last November and has continuously dazzled with himsdisplays for PSG this season. While he has netted fewer goals than Ronaldo this term, Ibrahimovic has won his legion of admirers due to his unpredictability in possession and demeanour on the pitch.
While his average rating in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League (7.69) may be lower this season, his attitude towards the game has a number of fans hopeful that Ibrahimovic goes to Brazil next summer at the expense of his Real counterpart. His exploits in France’s top tier this season are certainly deserving of a place in South America, with only Edinson Cavani and Falcao (both 9) scoring more goals than the 32-year-old (8).
His performances last term alone all but won PSG their first Ligue 1 title since 1994, and netting 30 league goals in the process he became the first person since Jean-Pierre Papin in the 1989/90 season to do so. Ronaldo may well have been winning the plaudits in La Liga this term, but Ibrahimovic is deserving of similar adulation being sent his way.
The powerful frontman has had the most shots on goal (62) and the most shots on target (23), while no player has executed more accurate through balls (4) and only Falcao (7) has scored more clear cut goalscoring opportunities than Ibrahimovic (6) in Ligue 1. The PSG talisman may be approaching the autumn years of his playing career, but his stats suggest that he remains one of football’s most feared strikers and he's earned what could be a final international hurrah on the grand stage.
When the two players showdown, first in Portugal and then in Sweden, eyes will be fixed on the duo as fans expect a repeat of the 2006 ‘Joga Bonito’ Nike advert featuring both stars. The encounter is enough to leave the neutral salivating, but when all is said and done next Tuesday, the reality is that one of either Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic won’t be partaking in the World Cup next summer and as entertaining a competition Brazil 2014 will be, the excitement levels won’t quite be the same without either of them involved.
Would you rather see Cristiano Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the World Cup next summer? Let us know in the comments below