Scottish Daily Mail

IS IT ZLA­TAN’S LAST STAND?

Ibra could quit Swe­den if they lose

- RIATH AL-SAMARRAI re­ports from Stockholm

WHEN Zla­tan Ibrahi­movic de­cides he has had enough, the mat­ter is not usu­ally open to de­bate. With that rou­tine well es­tab­lished, Erik Hamren, the man­ager of Swe­den, did not even try to push back when his main man waved to the bench late in the 2-1 win against Den­mark on Satur­day.

‘Of course, I didn’t want to change him,’ Hamren clar­i­fied.

But change him he did. The Zla­tan fac­tor truly is a weird and won­der­ful thing.

That one man rules over Swedish foot­ball, but the timely is­sue — and one which is largely unresolved — is over how long the reign will go on.

It is quite con­ceiv­able that Ibrahi­movic, that won­der­ful tal­ent and mar­vel­lous enemy of modesty, has only one more game to go on the in­ter­na­tional stage. If tomorrow night’s re­turn fix­ture against Den­mark in Copen­hagen goes wrong, en­sur­ing Swe­den miss out on qual­i­fi­ca­tion for Euro 2016, then it is ex­pected that the 34-yearold will call time on his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer. But that, in it­self, is part of the soap opera that has sur­rounded this play-off be­tween Scan­di­na­vian ri­vals.

In one breath, Ibrahi­movic has en­cour­aged the talk. In the next, in a post-match in­ter­view with Sports­mail, he hinted oth­er­wise, say­ing: ‘I feel good. The way I feel now, I feel I have more games to go.’

It does noth­ing to lessen the cult of Zla­tan. When the names of the teams were read out for this game at the Friends Arena, his was left un­til last. Un­like all oth­ers, he was given an in­tro­duc­tion and some­thing akin to a pro­longed drum­roll. They do not want him to go, this kung-fu mas­ter who has scored 412 goals in 750 ca­reer ap­pear­ances and 10 in his past 10 games for Swe­den.

On the ba­sis of his show­ing in this game and their wider qual­i­fi­ca­tion cam­paign, what a loss for foot­ball and fans of drama it would be if he does quit.

His night in Stockholm might have started with a mis­cued shot into the crowd and ended with a rant at his bench — he had been made to wait sev­eral min­utes be­fore his fatigue-driven re­quest to come off was granted with 10 min­utes to play — but this was still ex­tremely im­pres­sive. He had no role in Emil Fors­berg’s opener, but scored the penalty which made it 2-0.

He also had a goal dis­al­lowed and an almighty arm-wav­ing strop at Mar­cus Berg, the man tasked with stand­ing in his shadow in Hamren’s 4-4-2 sys­tem.

Berg’s of­fence had been to shoot from a good po­si­tion rather than re­turn a pass to Ibrahi­movic. He is drama, ag­gres­sion, charisma, tantrums and a man who al­most al­ways wins.

He might not be quite as ex­cep­tional as he thinks, but then nei­ther is Den­mark’s Nick­las Bendt­ner and there the com­par­isons end. One man scored on Satur­day and felt the love of a sta­dium, the other missed a sit­ter and got laughed at. It was left to Bendt­ner’s team-mate, Ni­co­lai Jor­gensen, to keep the game alive with a late goal at a time when Ibrahi­movic was try­ing to en­gi­neer his sub­sti­tu­tion.

Ibrahi­movic said: ‘We won the game and I think that is the most im­por­tant thing. But when you con­cede on your home pitch it gives the ad­van­tage to them. There is one game to go and if we can do like we did here, only scor­ing more goals and cre­at­ing the chances, we have a good chance.’

The hun­dreds of thou­sands in th­ese parts who swear by the man’s ev­ery de­mand and goal will hope he is right.

 ?? BPI ?? Per­fect 10: inim­itable Ibrahi­movic
BPI Per­fect 10: inim­itable Ibrahi­movic

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