Stockholm (AFP) – After Sweden’s “Miracle of Milan” booked them a berth at the World Cup finals and sent Italy crashing out, could Zlatan Ibrahimovic be set for a return from international retirement?
In the minutes after the Swedes hung on for a goalless draw on Monday that secured one of the big World Cup upsets, Ibrahimovic wrote “We are Zweden” on Instagram next to a photo of the delighted team, deliberately adding the ‘Z’ of his name to his country’s.
The Manchester United striker, who retired from the national team in 2016, was among the crowd in the San Siro to cheer on his former Sweden teammates but insisted ahead of the game there would be no comeback.
“My story with the national team is finished. Maybe I could have done more, maybe I could have done less but my time (with them) has come to an end,” he told Sky Sports Italy last week.
Influences close to the player, however, felt a return would be good.
“If the decision were mine, personally speaking, I’d take him,” the 36-year-old striker’s agent Mino Raiola told Swedish daily Expressen.
In the post-match press conference, coach Janne Andersson was irritated by reporters’ focus on whether their veteran former star could again pull on the yellow jersey at the finals in Russia next year.
“This is incredible. This player stopped playing with Sweden a year and a half ago and we are still talking about him,” Andersson told reporters.
“We need to talk about the great players we have in this team,” insisted Andersson, whose side beat France 2-1 at home and finished ahead of the Netherlands to clinch second place in Group A of European qualifying.
“Now, when I am not a part of the team they are playing with less pressure. People are expecting less,” Ibrahimovic said of Sweden’s qualification for the play-offs.
One player who has shone in his absence is Emil Forsberg of RB Leipzig, watched by Jose Mourinho, who was in the stands alongside his injured striker in Sweden’s 1-0 win in Stockholm last Friday.
Italy totally dominated Monday’s match but Sweden earned a return to the World Cup for the first time since 2006 thanks to Jakob Johansson’s strike in that bruising first leg.
“I have never experienced anything like this,” said goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven was overjoyed at the against-the-odds victory.
“Jaaaaaaaa! It will be the World Cup for Sweden in 2018 after two strong matches against Italy… Congratulations to the national team!” he wrote on Facebook.
Newspaper Dagens Nyheter could hardly believe the result either, calling it “surreal”.
Sweden’s Aftonbladet newspaper felt there was a magic touch behind the feat.
“When Janne Andersson took over the national team, there was nothing,” it wrote. “As if by magic, the players hauled themselves up before finishing on their knees, their palms turned to the sky. As in a prayer of thanks.”