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World Cup Soccer

Ronaldo nods Portugal ahead of Sweden

Lisbon, Portugal ( - Portugal gained a crucial advantage in its World Cup qualifying playoff on Friday as Cristiano Ronaldo's header nine minutes from time handed the nation a 1-0 win over Sweden.

The two nations were scoreless for 80 minutes at the Estadio da Luz, but Ronaldo provided the telling goal when he headed home a cross from Miguel Veloso in the 81st minute.

Portugal held on to the narrow lead, seeing out the remaining time to head into Tuesday return leg at the Friends Arena with a one-goal aggregate advantage.

Sweden was closest to breaking the deadlock in the opening period when Sebastian Larsson lashed a shot on goal from the top of the box in the 20th minute that forced a brilliant save from Rui Patricio.

The visitors came close once again just two minutes later through Kim Kallstrom's expertly taken free kick, which sailed inches wide of the upper corner.

Portugal regrouped at halftime and nearly opened the scoring in the 48th minute after a scramble inside the six-yard box saw Helder Postiga fail to nod home a delivery from Nani. Sweden cleared the ball off the goal line but it only went as far as Ronaldo, who lashed a first-time effort over the crossbar.

But Ronaldo ultimately had the last laugh as he struck in the final stages to grant Portugal the goal it so desperately sought. The Real Madrid star drifted into the box and managed to get on the end of a low cross from Veloso despite some tight marking, sending a powerful header past Andreas Isaksson from close range.

France, meanwhile, was not as fortunate as Portugal on Friday as Didier Deschamps' men dug themselves a massive hole with a 2-0 loss at Ukraine.

Roman Zozulya opened the scoring for Ukraine at hour mark before Andriy Yarmolenko converted a penalty nine minutes from time to seal Ukraine's crucial victory. Laurent Koscielny and Olexandr Kucher were issued red cards in stoppage time for France and Ukraine, respectively, meaning that the duo will miss the return match at the Stade de France on Tuesday.

Also in UEFA qualifying action on Friday, Greece claimed a 3-1 advantage over Romania thanks to goals from Dimitris Salpingidis and a brace from Kostas Mitroglou while Iceland kept its hopes of a World Cup appearance alive thanks to an impressive 0-0 draw with Croatia.

11/15 17:06:31 ET

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