With 48 goals and seven hat-tricks between them, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have arguably been European football’s form players this season.
But only one of the forwards will be able to represent their nation at next summer’s World Cup finals after Portugal and Sweden were drawn against each other in the play-offs.
Real Madrid’s Ronaldo, 28, is hoping to steer Portugal to their sixth finals, while 32-year-old Paris St-Germain man Ibrahimovic is aiming for his third finals after Sweden missed out on a place at the 2010 tournament in South Africa.
“With the squad and the individuals they have, Portugal are naturally the favourites,” Ibrahimovic said ahead of Friday’s first leg in Lisbon.
“But we finished second in a group with Germany, who I consider the strongest squad in Europe, while they finished second in a group they should have won.
“So I think we deserve to go to Brazil more than they do.”
Ibrahimovic dismissed talk that the play-off was just a contest between him and Ronaldo.
“I see two different players, two players who do things fantastically well and represent their countries in the best possible way,” said Ibrahimovic.
“One shouldn’t focus on just two players – it’s Sweden against Portugal and I think the collectives are the most important.”
Portugal only lost once in qualification, but it proved crucial as Russia took advantage of that defeat in Moscow in October 2012 to top Group F.
Sweden, meanwhile, finished eight points behind Germany in Group C to book their place in the play-offs.
Sweden coach Erik Hamren predicted an exciting clash between the two sides and admitted that it may come down to which of the two stars performs at their best.
“It’s fantastic for all football fans,” he said. “They are two world-class players.
“It’s sad that one of them is going to miss the World Cup in the summer, but it’s going to be really exciting. They are two players who can do the little extra and win the game for their country.
“But I’m sure it’s going to be Zlatan who does that for us.”
Former Manchester United forward Ronaldo has scored 28 goals in 20 appearances for club and country this season, including four hat-tricks. With 43 goals for his country, he has played at two World Cup finals before but has only scored in a 2-0 victory against Iran in 2006 and a 7-0 win over North Korea in 2010.
Ibrahimovic has scored 20 times in 21 games this season, weighing in with three hat-tricks, including a four-goal show in a 5-0 Champions League win against Anderlecht last month.