The Real Madrid star scored the only goal in Lisbon to leave Ibrahimovic and the Swedes facing a tough task in Tuesday's second leg.
Ronaldo saves Seleccao from Scandinavian stalemate
It was billed as the battle of the big names, and at the halfway mark it is Cristiano Ronaldo who is poised to appear at the World Cup at the expense of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The Real Madrid striker’s predatory instinct was the difference between the two men – and their respective nations – as a solitary late header in Lisbon gave Portugal a slender first-leg advantage over Sweden in their do-or-die World Cup play-off.
It was impossible for the game to really live up to the huge build-up it was given, especially given that so much of the hype was due to the very fact that both of the countries involved rely so heavily on one man. And, for long spells, the game did carry the demeanour of two sides lacking cohesion and structure as the star men were well marshalled.
However, the second half looked set to offer Portugal something more as they began to find space in around the Blagult back four, and sure enough it was Ronaldo who broke the deadlock. When Miguel Veloso found space on the left and delivered a cross in behind the defensive line, the main man was there on the end of it, getting in front of Martin Olsson to head home.
Ronaldo’s 63rd goal of 2013 may not yet be enough on its own, but it is a potentially vital goal in the outcome of the tie. Sweden now know that they need to score at least three goals to make one more Portuguese goal irrelevant. Many teams have overcome such a deficit before, but too many underdogs have considered beginning a second leg a goal behind to a better side as a fair trade only to find out it is not.
And on the evidence of Friday, Portugal are the better side. Zlatan will have to have one of his very best nights on Tuesday if Ronaldo is not to feature in Brazil next summer.