Scottish Daily Mail
IS IT ZLATAN’S LAST STAND?
Ibra could quit Sweden if they lose
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.