Portugal to Play Sweden in European Playoff for Brazil World Cup

Portugal will play Sweden and France takes on Ukraine in the European playoffs to reach soccer’s World Cup next year in Brazil.

In the other two pairings Iceland meets Croatia and Greece faces Romania. The draw was made in Zurich today with the two-game playoffs taking place next month.

Portugal, at 14th the highest-ranked of the playoff teams on FIFA’s list of soccer nations, has only won three of its previous 15 games against Sweden. The matches pitch two of soccer’s best-known players against each other -- Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

France, ranked 21st, has qualified for every World Cup since winning the tournament in 1998. It made the 2010 competition in controversial circumstances when striker Thierry Henry used his hand to control the ball before passing it to a teammate who scored a decisive French goal. Henry later admitted that he’d handled the ball. It last met its playoff opponent Ukraine at the 2012 European Championship, winning 2-0.

If Iceland wins its playoff it will become the smallest nation ever to appear in the World Cup. With a population of 320,000, it is the only playoff participant never to appear in the competition. It is also the lowest-ranked of the eight teams, at no. 46, and has lost both its previous games against Croatia.

Greece is bidding for its third appearance while Romania hasn’t qualified for the tournament since 1998. The teams have played each other on 30 occasions with Romania winning 17 and Greece five.

The first playoff matches will take place Nov. 15 with the second games Nov. 19. Portugal, Ukraine, Greece and Iceland are at home in the first games.

The four teams that qualify will complete a total of 13 European nations at the tournament. Qualifiers from other regions have yet to be determined in full.

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