As two of world football's biggest characters and best players prepare to go toe-to-toe for one of the last few slots at the 2014 World Cup, FourFourTwo's James Maw assesses which superstar will bring most to the table in Brazil next summer...
Both players have started 2013/14 in startling fashion.
Cristiano Ronaldo has scored a frankly ludicrous 24 goals in 17 appearances for Real Madrid so far this season, with another six in six appearances for Portugal. Calling this ‘excellent form’ would not only be an understatement, but would also suggest he’s prone to bad patches and crises of confidence.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has also scored a goal a game for his country this season (seven in Sweden’s seven matches), but is a smidgen under that masterly ratio at club level, with 15 goals in his 16 matches for French champions PSG so far this campaign.
Both players are capable of winning matches single-handedly and would feel like they belong in the setting of a World Cup in Brazil, but the Portuguese just has the edge. Just.
Ronnie 10-9 Ibra
Nation’s chance of entertaining
Neither Portugal or Sweden were particularly entertaining at Euro 2012, although Iberia’s second favourite national team have a little more flair in their ranks than the generally rather functional Scandinavians. We all know which of Nani and Seb Larsson is most likely to attempt 40 step-overs, fall over, then burst into tears.
That said, Sweden did manage a 4-4 draw and a 5-3 defeat against Germany in qualifying, which suggests they have the hapless-defence-barnstorming-attack balance just right, as far as thrilling the neutrals is concerned.
Ronnie 5-5 Ibra
Chances of breaking English hearts
Cristiano was part of the Portugal side that knocked England out of both Euro 2004 and World Cup 2006 on penalties, and has vast experience from his Premier League days of tying our defenders in knots.
Zlatan, meanwhile, did this...
We’ll call this one a tie.
Ronnie 10-10 Ibra
The purists will dismiss such matters as irrelevant, but the more simple-minded observer will spend most of June and July tweeting about crap haircuts and laughing at awful tattoos – and to them (well, us) this stuff is crucial.
Ibrahimovic certainly has more ink, Ronaldo has the haircut. While the Portuguese quite clearly spends a fair bit of time in front of the mirror, Zlatan has that Johnny Depp-style seemingly-effortless-but-actually-quite-a-bit-of-effort-involved cool about him.
Thinking about it, they both look likes wallies, really...
Ronnie 4-4 Ibra
Cristiano is like that guy down the pub you pretend to be mates with because girls circle round him. Zlatan is like that guy down the pub you pretend to be mates with out of fear.
For all the pouting and scowling, the former Manchester United star's child-like reactions during matches are genuinely endearing: you know the game really matters to him, even if it is all sometimes a trifle self-indulgent.
The Swede is an altogether different beast: his antics and bravado are amusing in small doses, but you get the feeling it would all quickly start to grate if you had to spend more than a few hours in his company. Six weeks cooped up in a hotel with him would be a real test, which brings us on to...
Ronnie 6-7 Ibra
While there’s no question the Portuguese flyer has form when it comes to moments of petulance, the Swede is almost unrivalled when it comes to letting off steam in highly inappropriate fashion.
Ibrahimovic’s rap sheet includes, but is not limited to: threatening to break Rafael van der Vaart’s legs for accusing the Swede of intentionally injuring him; booting new AC Milan team-mate Rodney Strasser in the back for a bit of a giggle; head-butting Oguchi Onyewu for accusing him of "trash talking"; and dragging Giorgio Chiellini along by the head "like a disobedient dog" following the Italian defender's over-zealous tackle.
While FFT certainly doesn’t condone violence, any World Cup worth its salt will have some inter-squad scrapping to keep things interesting during the rest days (and matches featuring Greece), and Zlatan is the man most likely to bring it.
Ronnie 3-9 Ibra
Other summer plans
Ronaldo will have plenty to keep himself occupied, should Portugal not qualify for the summer shindig. In recent summers, the forward has been seen sunning himself alongside supermodel squeeze Irina Shayk in Singapore, Miami, St Tropez and Ibiza.
If he doesn't make it, Zlatan certainly won't be watching the tournament. After his nation were elminiated from Euro 2012, a foolhardy journalists asked the burly Swede which team he thought would win the competition: "I don't give a shit who wins it now. I'm going on holiday."
Ronnie 9-7 Ibra
Likelihood of trying to start a fight with Christ the Redeemer
That sounds like Zlatan to us.
Ronnie 0-10 Ibra
Likelihood of being spotted on Copacabana beach in pink hotpants
Come on now…
Ronnie 10-0 Ibra
Cristiano may just have the edge on a technical level, but Ibra will bring more to the party.
Final score: Ronaldo 57-63 Ibrahimovic.