Eight goals shows that Swede dreams are not just made of Ibrahimovic
Soccer angles:In their last two games Sweden have shown Ireland how dangerous they are
There are 125 days until the Republic of Ireland team runs out at the Friends Arena in Stockholm to face Sweden in World Cup qualifying Group C. Thats 125 days in which Zlatan Ibrahimovic might pick up an injury, row with his manager or find some other way in which to make himself unavailable. You never know, he might retire. So there is hope.
Ibrahimovic has deservedly monopolised the market in coverage of Sweden’s game against England last Wednesday night, when his four goals were heard around the world. The last, his overhead kick, will be replayed forever.
Ibrahimovic, and to a lesser extent, Joe Hart, have obscured the rest of the night and both were so central to its outcome that trying to make an assessment of Sweden beyond the man whose autobiography is called I Zlatan is hazardous.
Yet the assumption that Giovanni Trapattoni must make is that Ibrahimovic will play in March and that Trap must in part base the Irish approach to the game on how to thwart a player at the peak of his powers.
Trapattoni gets plenty of criticism for negativity, but this would be realism. Remove Ibrahimovic from the Swedish equation and it is a different matter altogether.
Footballers get very worked up about those marks out of 10 newspapers award for performances but Sweden without Ibrahimovic are a 6/10 outfit. With him, they are 7/10. With him in the sort of form he appears to be sustaining and they are closer to 8/10. He makes so much difference when in goalscoring mood. Trap’s Ireland feel like a 5/10 team just now, so they need to improve to get a draw in Stockholm. It is unlikely there will be much pre-match discussion about an Irish victory.
Wednesday was historic for Sweden. It was the first match at their new €300 million national stadium.
But it was a friendly. The Ireland game will be their first competitive fixture at the ground and that will also mean something to the players.
After England, Ibrahimovic said his first goal, and what a goal, mattered as much to him if not more than the heralded fourth, because it was an historic strike in the new stadium. You can imagine he will also wish to score the first competitive goal there too.
Thankfully for Kieren Westwood, that 35-yard overhead kick is a once-in-a-lifetime effort.
Worryingly for Ireland though is that Ibrahimovic’s first – a stabbed strike of spectacular speed and power that revealed his taekwondo expertise – was a five-times-a-season goal. It was brilliant and whoever in green is chosen to mark ‘Ibra’ will need to be as concentrated as if they were facing a rattlesnake.
What Trap is more likely to ask of his team is that they try to deny Ibrahimovic by stopping him getting the ball. The theory will be that that is easier than halting him in possession.
In one Swedish paper Ibrahimovic got six out of five for his display against England. In another, Aftonbladet, it was 5/5, but only one player got 4/5, three got 3/5 and the rest a mix of ones and twos.
The four-star man was Anders Svensson, the former Southampton midfielder. He is 36 now and was on as a sub.
Overall, considering the historic nature of the occasion, this was a subdued Sweden display. The Irish players will not be walking into a cauldron when they visit Stockholm. The atmosphere inside the Friends Arena was notable for its absence until 15 minutes from the end when Ibrahimovic made the score 2-2 with a blockbuster volley as he ran away from Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross.