Waiting for Zlatan - Sweden demands star makes impact on Euro 2016

If there is a disadvantage to having a genuinely world class player in your squad, it is perhaps there is an unavoidable tendency to wait on him to win you games.

And without a shot on target in two Euro 2016 games so far - unprecedented since statistics began at the finals in 1980 - Sweden are well and truly waiting on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to provide them with some inspiration.

The Swedes do have one goal and one point to their name in Group E, thanks to an own goal in the opening draw with Ireland. But losing their next match to Italy means they realistically must win against Belgium in Nice on Wednesday to reach the last 16.

“Time to make yourself visible, Zlatan!” was a headline in Sunday’s edition of Stockholm daily Svenska Dagbladet while columnists in tabloids Expressen and Aftonbladet both said Ibrahimovic was spending too much time on the field away from the opposition box.

Johan Esk, columnist with Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter, even dared to suggest that Ibrahimovic, on the highest stage, was just not as good as some people think - likely including himself.

”Perhaps it’s as simple as the fact that he struggles in certain extreme matches when everything is at stake," Esk said. "Just look at how he’s been in the Champions League the longer the championship has progressed."

Ibrahimovic has won league titles in Holland, Italy, Spain and France but has never triumphed in Europe's elite club competition and has rarely featured at the business end of the tournament, reaching the semi-finals only once.

Adding to his frustration is that former clubs Inter Milan and Barcelona both won the trophy shortly after his departure - though proving a link here between cause and effect is impossible.

Undeniably though, in a team game, no one player can win games single-handedly and Ibrahimovic's Euro 2016 performances were defended by coach Erik Hamren.

“He’s done what he should do during the two matches," Hamren said. "He had a tough challenge against three strong defenders (against Italy). We had difficulty creating pressure, which he needs. A forward needs support."

Now aged 34, Ibrahimovic has been a mainstay in the Sweden side since he was a youngster. In truth though, the problem may be less with Ibrahimovic himself than the declining ability of those around him.

Euro 2016 is Ibrahimovic's fourth with his country. But at his first, back in 2004, he was part of an attack which included Henrik Larsson, Fredrik Ljungberg and Christian Wilhelmson.

Glancing through the current squad sees players representing a variety of solid clubs throughout Europe but the likes of strikers Marcus Berg and John Guidetti are simply not at the same level as those of the previous generation.

The midfield consists mainly of workmanlike professionals rather than flair or creativity, though more could have been expected from Emil Forsberg who earned promotion to the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig domestically.

Ibrahimovic, unsurprisingly, was refusing to panic.

“During the first match we didn’t play well and picked up one point," he said. “We’ve got one match left and if we win, we can advance."

And Belgium coach Marc Wilmots was also under no illusions as to who was the main danger to his side in the upcoming contest.

"They have got a great player up front, Zlatan. He can score from a deflection, from a free-kick, from anything and I respect Zlatan very much," he said.

Last update: Mon, 20/06/2016 - 12:27
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