SOLNA, Sweden — 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.
After a hesitant first half in which the Real Madrid forward missed several scoring chances, the much-awaited contest between two of the biggest names in world football — Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic — finally burst into life in a spectacular second half.
Five minutes after the break, Ronaldo opened the scoring, set up by a superb long pass by Joao Moutinho.
Ibrahimovic equalized for Sweden with a header from a corner in the 68th minute. Three minutes later, Sweden won a free kick just outside the penalty area and Ibrahimovic fired home a fierce low shot to give the home team a 2-1 lead and raise a nation’s hopes of qualification.
However, the home fans among the nearly 50,000 spectators didn’t get to cheer for long.
As Sweden pushed forward in search of a third goal and a 3-2 lead on aggregate, its defense became vulnerable to the counterattack.
And Ronaldo, who scored the only goal in last Friday’s first leg in Lisbon, made the home side pay.
Latching on to a pass by Hugo Almeida, Ronaldo raced through to equalize with a clinical finish in the 77th minute. He brought up his hat trick just two minutes later — this time collecting a defense-splitting pass from Joao Moutinho — and could even added to his goal tally later.
“It just hurts right now,” Sweden coach Erik Hamren said.
Austria 1, United States 0
VIENNA — Marc Janko scored in the 33rd minute after lax defensive marking, and the United States ended a record-setting year with a 1-0 loss to Austria.
Hungarian referee Istan Vad failed to allow a goal for the United States when Geoff Cameron’s header off Michael Bradley’s corner kick deflected off Marko Arnautovic and appeared to cross the goal line in the 17th minute before it was swatted awaWy by goalkeeper Robert Almer.
Janko’s 16th international goal, started by David Alaba’s attacking move, came off a cross from Gyorgy Garics and ended a 453-minute shutout streak in international and club play for Howard, Everton’s starter.
The U.S. finished the year with a team-record 16 victories and qualified for its seventh straight World Cup. Austria failed to qualify for next year’s tournament in Brazil.
Martin Harnik put a curling shot past Howard in the 49th minute, but was offside when he collected a pass from Christian Fuchs.
Jozy Altidore came closest to tying the score, but his low shot in the 74th was saved by Almer. Altidore also sent a free kick wide in the closing minutes.
France came back in remarkable fashion to overtake Ukraine for a berth in the 32-nation field for next year’s tournament in Brazil.
Iceland failed to become the least populous nation to reach soccer’s top tournament, losing to Croatia on a thrilling final night of European qualifying.
Greece, Ghana and Algeria also earned berths, and Mexico took a 5-1 lead into the second leg of its playoff against New Zealand.
The final berth will be determined Wednesday night, when Uruguay defends a 5-0 advantage against Jordan.
World Cup Qualifiers To Date:
NORTH AND CENTRAL AMERICA AND CARIBBEAN — Costa Rica, Honduras, United States
EUROPE — Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland
SOUTH AMERICA — Argentina, Brazil (host), Chile, Colombia, Ecuador
ASIA — Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea
AFRICA — Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeri