Zla­tan ru­mours get Swe­den talk­ing

The New Age (Western Cape) - - Sport -

THE fi­nal whis­tle, which sig­nalled that Swe­den had qual­i­fied for the 2018 World Cup, was still echo­ing around the San Siro when spec­u­la­tion over whether re­tired record goal scorer Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic would re­turn for the fi­nals in Rus­sia.

Swe­den had just se­cured a 1­0 ag­gre­gate vic­tory over Italy with a squad short on big names, a team that snatched sec­ond place in Euro­pean qual­i­fy­ing Group A from the Dutch and beaten France at home be­fore knock­ing out Italy, all with­out Ibrahi­movic.

“This is in­cred­i­ble. The player has just stopped to play one­and­a­half years ago and we are still here talk­ing about him,” Swe­den boss Lars An­der­s­son said when asked if Ibrahi­movic was set to re­turn.

The 36 year old de­parted the na­tional team after a dis­ap­point­ing group stage exit at Euro 2016, end­ing an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer that saw him score 62 goals, many of them spec­tac­u­lar, in 116 matches for his coun­try.

Shortly after the game Zla­tan posted a pic­ture on so­cial me­dia with the cap­tion “We are Zwe­den”. By Tues­day, it had more than 1 mil­lion likes on In­sta­gram, but An­der­s­son didn’t seem en­tirely pos­i­tive about a pos­si­ble re­turn.

“Zla­tan is, as I ex­pressed it, our great­est player of all time, a fan­tas­tic ath­lete in ev­ery way, but he has cho­sen not to take part,” An­der­s­son said.

“These guys who did take part and have per­formed fan­tas­ti­cally. It’s sad to sit and talk about some­one who hasn’t been here. I have a gang that has done fan­tas­tic, we can talk about them in­stead.”

The Manch­ester United striker, who is re­cov­er­ing from a se­ri­ous knee in­jury, has al­ways been some­thing of a di­vi­sive fig­ure in his na­tive coun­try, adored for his skills but of­ten per­ceived as ar­ro­gant and self­ish. After his de­par­ture and that of for­mer man­ager Erik Ham­ren, the Swedes went back to their tra­di­tional style of be­ing a tightly­knit col­lec­tive where no in­di­vid­ual is more im­por­tant than the team.

An­der­s­son’s play­ers were not in the mood to dis­cuss a pos­si­ble re­turn ei­ther.

“First and fore­most he must open up the pos­si­bil­ity him­self. Oth­er­wise I don’t think one should have this dis­cus­sion,” de­fender Lud­wig Au­gustins­son said after the Italy game. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: GETTY IM­AGES

CEN­TRE OF AT­TEN­TION: Striker Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic.

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