Heavyweights Ronaldo and Zlatan battle for ticket to Brazil

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

John Berry/Getty ImagesCristiano Ronaldo last faced Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Real Madrid's preseason friendly versus PSG.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will undoubtedly be in the minds of those voting for the Ballon d'Or this year, but one will not be heading to Brazil for the World Cup come the end of the season.

Voting closes for international captains, managers and journalists to put their nominations forward for football's top individual prize Friday, the same day the pair go head-to-head for their countries for the right to play on the sport's biggest stage in South America next summer.

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Portugal and Sweden had to make do with a play-off place in the qualifying stages for Brazil and the pair will meet in the first leg in Lisbon Friday night. One of the big guns, both as a nation and as one of football's individual star attractions, will be sitting at home watching the action unfold in front of his television next summer. It's a shame for the tournament, but it's the play-off match most have been waiting for.

The focus will be on Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic and both go into the match in fine form. The pair have scored seven hat tricks between them already this season -- Ronaldo with four, including one in his last match for Real Madrid against Real Sociedad at the weekend and one already for his country in their 4-2 win in Northern Ireland, while Ibrahimovic has notched three for Paris St Germain.

Ronaldo may be too late to impress his peers and bag a few more votes for the Ballon d'Or, but his form and his mentality is such that he will be equally as desperate to feature in Brazil next summer. Just like Ibrahimovic, a player of his magnitude will not want to miss out on shining on world football's biggest stage.

The scene is therefore set, although Ibrahimovic is playing down the personal contest before kick-off, and perhaps rightly so. "I see two different players, two players who do things fantastically well and represent their countries in the best possible way," he said. "One shouldn't focus on just two players -- it's Sweden against Portugal and I think the collectives are the most important."

Ronaldo won't be the only Madrid man involved in Lisbon with Pepe and Fabio Coentrao also vying for inclusion. The latter has been struggling with an ankle injury and missed Los Blancos' clash with Sociedad at the weekend, but he is expected to recover, while Pepe is expected to start.

Karim Benzema won over the Madridistas thanks to his performance at the Bernabeu on Saturday, and he will hope to continue winning people over -- this time of his nation -- when France take on Ukraine for a place in Brazil. The striker will be joined by Madrid teammate Raphael Varane for the first leg in Kiev Friday.

The sixth Blanco looking to book his place on a flight to South America is Luka Modric, who is expected to line-up for Croatia in Iceland Friday night. All six are favourites to progress in their respective matches and all six will be looking to take their form onto the international stage. A place dining at the top table of football awaits if they are successful.

In total, 15 Madrid players have been called up for international duty over the next week. Iker Casillas will hope to get some more game time when he joins club mates Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso in the Spain squad for friendlies against Equatorial Guinea and South Africa. Sami Khedira could be involved when Germany play two high-profile friendly matches against Italy and England, while Gareth Bale could feature for Wales against Finland. Also, Angel di Maria is expected to be involved in two friendlies for Argentina, against Ecuador and Bosnia. Dani Carvajal and Alvaro Morata played in Spain under-21s' 6-1 thrashing of Bosnia on Thursday, with Morata getting on the scoresheet, and the pair could feature against Albania on Monday.

Some tasty ties await Madrid's star men in the coming days, but the only thing manager Carlo Ancelotti will be bothered about is that all return to the Spanish capital in one piece after next Tuesday's World Cup playoff second legs.

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