Saturday 20 January 2018

Zlatan hints at Swedish retirement

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has never been afraid to speak his mind and the Sweden striker said last night that he had put France on the map of world soccer.

With a day to go before his country meet Denmark in the first leg of their Euro 2016 playoff at the Friends Arena, Ibrahimovic also hinted that the two games against Sweden's Scandinavian rivals could be his last for the national team.

"I would love to play at the European Championship in France," the Paris St Germain forward told reporters.

"I have played there for four years. I have put Sweden on the world map and now I have put France on the world map too.

"If it's over (for me) after the playoffs? We'll see. If you're asking me now? No. If you ask me after the playoffs? I don't know," said Ibrahimovic.

Sweden's all-time record scorer shrugged off the fact that he has never scored against the Danes.

"It doesn't mean anything," he said. "There will be goals when there is goals. If we create chances they'll turn up."

The second leg is in Copenhagen on Tuesday.

The play-offs could also be the last matches in charge for opposing coaches Erik Hamren and Morten Olsen. Having missed out on qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil, Sweden's Hamren is unlikely to continue if they go out while Olsen will definitely step down when Denmark's interest ends.

Both teams have seen their midfield ranks depleted by injuries, with the Danes losing Pione Sisto and Leon Andreasen, while Sweden are without Albin Ekdal and Pontus Wernbloom.

Ukraine's clash with Slovenia tomorrow is a rematch of the Euro 2000 playoff which the Slovenians won 3-2 on aggregate to reach their first major tournament as an independent nation.

Slovenia secured a playoff spot after finishing third behind England and Switzerland in Group E and will look to 36-year old striker Milivoje Novakovic, who bagged six goals in qualifying, to carry the attack to a Ukraine side without injured influential midfielder Ruslan Rotan for both legs.

Ukraine coach Mykhaylo Fomenko also has to fill another gap in midfield with Taras Stepanenko banned for the first leg, along with full back Olexandr Kucher.

Norway failed to automatically qualify when a final-game defeat by Italy allowed Croatia to finish runners-up in Group H but Per-Mathias Hogmo's side will be confident of overcoming a Hungary team who have not reached a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when they meet on Sunday.

The Norwegians have been revitalised by the energetic midfield performances of the likes of Alexander Tettey, Jo Inge Berget and Stefan Johansen, as well as 16-year-old forward Martin Odegaard, and can point to not having lost against Hungary since 1981 as grounds for optimism.

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