Why Euro 2016 deserves magnificent madcap Zlatan
Euro 2016 needs the perfect imperfect hero in Ibrahimovic
PLAY-OFF, SECOND LEG
(Yussuf Poulsen 81, Jannik Vestergaard 90+1)
(Zlatan Ibrahimovic 19, 76)
- Sweden win 4-3 on aggregate
Men like Zlatan Ibrahimovic make us watch football.
He does more than merely captivate. He connects. He's a flawed genius. He's a regular guy with an irregular talent.
He makes mistakes. He says the wrong things at the wrong time. He can be unbearably selfish. He's more than a maverick. He's a mirror.
He grants hypnotised viewers the rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of how we might behave in such circumstances.
He's an uncensored bloke with a big mouth and a colossal ability to do ridiculous things with a football.
Most of us are lumbered with the first two. Only Ibrahimovic gives us all three. He's the perfect imperfect hero.
That's why he belongs at Euro 2016. That's why he had to score the two goals that guided Sweden through the Danish minefield yesterday morning (Singapore time) at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen. That's why we love this quote.
"There was the thought that this would send me into retirement," he said after the 4-3 aggregate victory. "I sent their entire country into retirement."
Ibrahimovic brings out the uncut schoolkid in all of us.
The cheekiness and the brutal honesty are traits of the playground. Such an unchecked, unguarded celebration of victory defines the very essence of sport.
It's winning in its purest form. It is, quite literally, kids stuff.
In a cynical age of spin, where the corporate sound-bite rules, Ibrahimovic sounds like an uncouth gunslinger slightly out of step with the modern world. He says what he thinks. Sometimes, he doesn't think. He just says. Just like us.
In France, he'll be the last of the endangered scoundrels, the Han Solo of Euro 2016. He always shoots first.
Devilish icons usually outshine dull ones. Michael Owen had a longer, more illustrious career than Robbie Fowler, but there is only one "God" at Anfield.
Ibrahimovic delights further because his everyman qualities feed into his extraordinary capabilities.
The ego fuels the ability. They play off each other in a glorious game of one-upmanship.
The monster of Malmo really believes in his ability to terrorise. His messiah complex comes with a guarantee, as he once told then PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti. Believe in me and I will redeem you.
His deft flick for Sweden's opener against Denmark settled the nerves of his flock. Relieved teammates immediately surrounded him, like yellow-clad disciples grateful for his guidance and intervention.
It's a wonder he didn't pat each of their heads as he returned to the pulpit.
But one goal was never going to satisfy his messianic cravings. Ibrahimovic needed his Sermon on the Mount moment, a single act that demanded total adulation.
Naturally, inevitably, the free-kick was not out of this world.
He was too far out. He didn't take enough steps. Two strides appeared contemptuous of both the distance and Denmark's defensive wall. He wouldn't sustain the power. He wouldn't get the ball up and around in time. He wouldn't score. He couldn't score.
He was never going to miss.
Two steps and Sweden saw heaven.
The celebration was inevitable. Arms outstretched, Christ-like, running towards the delirious Swedish masses, ready to accept a nation's embrace.
Never has a footballer's athleticism been powered by his arrogance quite like Ibrahimovic. Ego is always the most unstoppable of engines.
Sweden's greatest player now has 62 goals in 111 internationals. He ended the qualification campaign with 11 in 10 games. He once compared himself to Jesus, but those stats belong in Greek mythology. Ibrahimovic was Atlas in attack. He held up the sky for Sweden.
More pertinently, he achieved something twice that remains beyond Christian Eriksen. He scored for his country in Copenhagen.
Eriksen was handed No. 10 duties behind the erratic Nicklas Bendtner for the second leg, but he remained stuck in the hole. The Tottenham midfielder will again be persecuted for the paradox. He cannot replicate his club form for his country.
Ibrahimovic rarely tolerates rivals to his godliness. Eriksen was left a false idol.
At 23, his time will come, as long as the Danes unearth a centre forward who doesn't treat the ball and the goalmouth like repelling magnets.
The present belongs to the man who would be king, if he didn't think it would be a demotion on his current, mythical status.
Ibrahimovic gets to end his international career as he always intended, at a major tournament, in France, on his own terms.
It's the finale he wanted. It's a storyline the game desperately needed.
Euro 2016 will now get both the self-proclaimed messiah and, occasionally, a very naughty boy.
11: Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored 11 goals in 15 matches during the Euro 2016 campaign, which is bettered only by Polish top scorer Robert Lewandowski’s haul of 13. Ibrahimovic’s total is also more than half of Sweden’s tally of 19.
Job done, Zlatan promises 'magic'
Having famously boasted that the World Cup in Brazil would not be worth watching due to his absence, Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic claims next year's Euro Finals in France will be "magic" after his side defeated Denmark to qualify.
The 34-year-old scored three of his side's four goals - a penalty, a cleverly-worked strike from a corner and a sublime free-kick - as the Swedes beat local rivals Denmark 4-3 on aggregate in a hard-fought play-off yesterday morning (Singapore time) in Coepnhagen.
"It will be magic. It will be big magic for me to be there," said an elated Ibrahimovics.
Should the prolific striker continue in the form he is currently enjoying, it will also be magic for Sweden's supporters, even if it might prove to be the player's swansong.
"It is probably going to be my last tournament with the national team and I am very excited because before these two play-off games there was all this kind of talk that we were not able to beat Denmark," added the Paris St Germain striker.
"Now we are very happy and I am satisfied. I let my feet talk. I don't talk in public."
For once, that statement was true.
Ibrahimovic was, by his own lofty standards, kept quiet enough by Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer, but he worked harder than ever in defence and, when his chances came, he took them with aplomb.
He had silenced the home fans in the 19th minute when he ghosted out to meet Kim Kallstrom's corner, twisting athletically to sweep the ball past flat-footed goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
Then he punished the Danes for their failure to create chances with a beautiful curling free-kick in the 76th minute to send the Swedes closer to a place in France next year.
Late goals by Yussuf Poulsen and Jannik Vestergaard provided some comfort for the home fans but, once again, they struggled to create and convert chances.
The final whistle sparked scenes of wild jubilation among the gold-and-blue clad players and fans as the squad rushed to celebrate with their supporters.
"They (the Danes) were going to send me into retirement, but I sent their whole country into retirement," a jubilant Ibrahimovic told Swedish broadcaster Kanal 5 as he was mobbed by his teammates.
For the Swedes, qualification means not having to deal with the international retirement of their talismanic captain until at least next summer, but the player is already preparing to wind down his career.
His contract with French champions PSG runs out at the end of this season and he is considering his options.
"I think it is too late to come to England. I am very happy in PSG, I have my last six months and let us see what happens afterwards," added the player who has also won league titles in Holland, Spain and Italy.
His legs may be getting older, but his appetite for the game remains undiminished.
"I am enjoying it, I enjoy every day on the field. While I am playing at the top level I just want to enjoy it and do my thing," he said.
"I do not know where I will finish my career. Let us wait and see."
Whatever his choice of club, an international career which started modestly with a friendly against the Faroe Islands in 2001, will now end on one of the biggest stages of all, at the European Championship Finals in France next year.
- Wire Services.
Olsen quits after 15 years
Morten Olsen quit as coach of Denmark after 15 years in the hot seat following yesterday morning's (Singapore time) failure to qualify for Euro 2016.
Denmark drew 2-2 at home to a Zlatan Ibrahimovic-inspired Sweden in Copenhagen to crash out of the play-offs 4-3 on aggregate.
"I've told the players that the federation and I have agreed that it would make no sense for me to continue," said the 66-year-old Olsen. "The last few months have been frustrating. I couldn't find consistency either in our performances or our line-up. I take full responsibility."
Olsen took Denmark to the World Cup last 16 in 2002 and the Euro quarter-finals two years later but they have failed to qualify for the last two major tournaments.
Morten Olsen. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Euro 2016 line-up
- France (hosts)
- Czech Republic
- Northern Ireland
- Hungary (via play-off)
- Ireland (via play-off)
- Sweden (via play-off)
- Ukraine (via play-off)