Football

'Forget Zlatan, hail Swedish heroes'

Coach Andersson dismisses Man United striker's possible return to national fold

The final whistle which signalled that Sweden had qualified for the 2018 World Cup was still echoing around the San Siro yesterday morning (Singapore time) when the speculation began - will retired Zlatan Ibrahimovic return for the Finals in Russia?

Sweden had just secured a 1-0 aggregate victory over Italy with a squad short on big names, a team that snatched second place in European qualifying Group A from the Dutch and beaten France at home before knocking out Italy, all without the record goalscorer.

"This is incredible. The player has stopped playing for us one-and-a-half years ago and we are still here talking about him," Sweden boss Jan Andersson said when asked if Ibrahimovic was set to return.

The 36-year-old left the national team after a disappointing group-stage exit at Euro 2016, ending an international career that saw him score 62 goals, many of them spectacular, in 116 matches for his country.

Shortly after the game, the Manchester United striker posted a picture on social media with the caption "We are Zweden" and, as of yesterday, it had garnered over a million likes on Instagram, but Andersson didn't seem entirely positive about a possible return.

"Zlatan is, as I expressed it, our greatest player of all time, a fantastic athlete in every way, but he has chosen not to take part," he said.

HEROES

"We need to talk about the great players we have, we have many heroes tonight. I am a bit moved but, obviously, very happy with the result. It's sad to talk about someone who hasn't been here. I have a gang that has done fantastic, we can talk about them instead."

Sweden, who last reached the World Cup Finals in 2006, pulled over a mammoth coup in ousting the four-time champions, who failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958, and the feat was not lost on the 55-year-old coach.

"I cried a few tears," Andersson said.

"Look at some of the older players who felt that this was the last chance to make it to a World Cup - and now we did it. It's indescribable."

Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist, who fell to the ground in tears when the game ended, said: "This is the biggest thing that has happened to me."

"For those of us who are older, this is probably the last chance to play at a World Cup. So to succeed is an unbelievable joy," the 32-year-old added.

Sweden may have surprised the pundits, but striker Marcus Berg said that they believed all along that they could make it.

"I'm so damn proud of us," he said.

"We have believed in this, we know how strong we are and that's the key." - REUTERS

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