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.
Until then the crowd – 50,000 of them – were reserved and polite. The roof was on. It was mild in November. It’s New Football.
But then it was a friendly. Even so, it’s hard to envisage an intimidation factor off the pitch in March.
On the pitch Sweden began with seven of the 11 who started against Germany in Berlin last month.
That might be a rather more instructive match for Trapattoni. Four days after scoring six against the Irish in Dublin, Germany stroked in another four against the Swedes in just 55 minutes. It was embarrassing.
Then, in the 62nd minute, someone called Ibrahimovic pulled one back for Sweden. Two minutes later Celtic’s Mikael Lustig made the score 4-2 and 12 minutes later Johan Elmander made it 4-3.
In the 90th minute Rasmus Elm produced one of the most remarkable equalisers in World Cup history.
So Wednesday was the second time in two games that Sweden had scored four goals against a significant country, and that should concern all in green.
Zlatan’s swing quartet against England will garner headlines, but the previous result is the more impressive. Having four goalscorers against Germany in a qualifier is more telling than having one against England in a friendly.
The Swedes are second in the Group, three points behind Germany with a game in hand. After the recovery of Berlin and the miracle of Stockholm, they have momentum. Those 125 days can’t go slow enough for Giovanni Trapattoni.
Saints alive: Make or break for Hughes
The Premier League returns with some interesting games this afternoon.
There is Arsenal-Tottenham for starters, West Brom-Chelsea has its own fresh intrigue due to West Brom’s challenge and Steve Clarke’s presence in the dugout, and you can imagine Brendan Rodgers won’t be over the moon should Wigan – and Roberto Martinez – do well at Anfield.
But the match with the X-Factor is at Loftus Road.
QPR versus Southampton is a contest of such dangerous significance for Mark Hughes that he could watch it from behind the settee.
The league table shows this to be 20th v 19th.
QPR have four points, Southampton, five. But the Saints are just promoted and have won a game. QPR came up the previous year but haven’t won a league game since May.
Hughes, installed as Neil Warnock’s successor in January, has overseen seven defeats so far this season. The patience of QPR owner Tony Fernandes has been as consistent as the team’s form, but today is make-or-break.
If QPR lose, Fernandes may not even have to tell Hughes it’s over as Hughes may have already walked out the doors of the west London club and into managerial obscurity.
This would be hard to come back from.
But if QPR win, and on paper they should, then a buoyed Hughes will be able to work all of next week. There will be talk of a new start. Then, next Saturday, QPR go for a visit to one of Hughes’s former clubs, Manchester United. All the best.