On the 72th minute mark in Sweden’s World Cup play-off 2nd leg with Portugal, Zlatan Ibrahimovic had just struck back in his titanic individual battle with Ronaldo, driving a free-kick low and beyond the Portuguese wall, whizzing past Rui Patricio before the goalkeeper could even get down.
He had scored a header four minutes previously to equalise on the night and half the tie’s deficit, Ibrahimovic would have been forgiven, as he surveyed the Friends Arena in Solna that was awash with adulation for their captain, for massaging his already meteoric ego.
“You bought a Ferrari but drove it like a Fiat” he told Barcelona after he had left for AC Milan and here he was, showing his class and backing up such unbelievable arrogance. He had single-handedly dragged his country back into the ascendancy and within a single goal of World Cup qualification, this was a time when his narcissism could be revelled in.
Though Ronaldo had other ideas, seizing the beacon of wondrous footballing ability on show that night, as he ran home 2 more goals to complete a majestic hat-trick which sent Portugal to Brazil.
Ibrahimovic looked on in bewilderment, aware that he would have to witness next summer’s show-piece from a distance. A notable absence from a tournament that attracts the very best, company that he has repeatedly shown he is a part of. Though his self-admiration remained unmoved, “A World Cup without me is nothing to watch so it is not worthwhile to wait for the World Cup” he proclaimed.
He is probably correct. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo inhabit a separate footballing plateau while Franck Ribery made a solid case for the Ballon D’Or before the Portuguese captain all-but secured it on Tuesday, though Ibrahimovic represents compulsive viewing.
“I save my energy so I can burst out with fast aggressive moves” he says in his autobiography, carrying the aptly self-effacing title “I am Zlatan”, and he does it often, lurking in the periphery of games before striking with a venomous display of his wonderful technique and power.
As a result, many perceive him in England to be an inconsistent flashbulb footballer, possessing class but showing it only sporadically, only when he fancies it. That however, would be a gross misjudgment of a player who has won titles in Italy, Spain, Holland and France, scoring 280 goals along the way.
49 of that tally have come at Paris St Germain, the French club he heads back to after his duty with Sweden in the aim of forgetting his personal disappointment of Tuesday night. “I talked to him yesterday and his behaviour and his state of mind was very good” said his manager Laurent Blanc, “Certainly he must be disappointed, but regarding his behaviour and state of mind, I find it very good”.
Blanc will be hoping he can continue, beginning with a trip to Reims on Saturday, his electric goal-scoring form that has seen the Swede net 21 goals in 19 games so far this season. PSG remain unbeaten at the summit of Ligue 1, clear by 4 points and boasting the most prolific attack with 27 goals, and comfortably into the next stage of the Champions League after his individual brilliance swept aside Anderlecht in Brussels.
On top of the 35 he hit last year to fire PSG to their first French title since 1994, he has repaid every penny of the 20 million Euros the Qatari-owned club paid for his services in the summer of 2012. In his first 5 games in the French capital he hit 7 goals, leading Jean Pierre-Papin to say he was from “another planet”. “We haven’t had a goalscorer like him in France for years”, he said, rather setting the tone for Ibrahimovic’s time in Ligue 1.
The Swede is not just a goalscorer either, instead graceful in the touch enough to provide 3 assists so far this season and another 22 chances created. A mammoth tally of 85 shots attempted suggests a striker of unyielding confidence and ambition, utilising hubris as his biggest motivator in the belief anything he tries will come off spectacularly.
He will only recoup more of that 20 million Euro fee if he can, together with Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Blaise Matuidi, use his unstoppable form to fire the Red and Blues into the latter stages of the Champions League. It would certainly be a way of leaving an abiding memory in the public as they prepare to set eyes on Brazil next summer.
There is a reason why that fee saw Ibrahimovic surpass Nicolas Anelka as the most expensive footballer in terms of combined transfers just as there was a reason why, on the eve of the World Cup play-off there was a projected image of Sweden’s talismanic striker beamed onto a building in Stockholm.
It was he, arms wide, like Sweden’s messiah, akin to the sculpture of Jesus Christ the Redeemer that looks down on Rio. Ibrahimovic’s arrogance means he will be the worshipped figure that looks distantly on to the hub of next year’s tournament.
His absence will be of detriment to the world’s game, but of great benefit to PSG. With a determined Ibrahimovic leading the charge, they are realistic Champions League contenders.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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