Ibrahimovic toils alone in Sweden's 2-1 win
Sweden striker can't prevail with second-class colleagues
PLAY-OFF, FIRST LEG
(Emil Forsberg 45, Zlatan Ibrahimovic 50-pen)
(Nicolai Jorgensen 80)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic spoke of his frustration after the final whistle. He should've been furious.
For 80 minutes, the leaning tower of Sweden was lurching towards Euro 2016 qualification. He had one foot in the Finals. The Swedes were within touching distance, two goals to the good and coasting to glory.
But they threw the drowning Danes a lifeline. They offered hope where there should be none. They were again let down by the striking contrast in attack.
Ibrahimovic was a world-beater surrounded by egg-beaters, a raging, a towering inferno among damp squibs.
As Sweden squandered one glorious opportunity after another, the unpalatable reality revealed itself once more in the first leg of their play-off yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Up front, they are a Swede among cabbages.
Denmark host the second leg on Wednesday morning a goal behind, but psychologically ahead. They lost a battle, but are poised to win the war between Scandinavian foes.
Denmark's blessing is Ibrahimovic's curse. They are surrounded with superior players. Ibra isn't.
Emil Forsberg rose to the occasion, providing a fine goal and assist, but he was a lone star for the Swedes.
Forsberg's persistent foraging down the left and Ibrahimovic's muscular menace around the box would have sufficed against the static Danes had they been adequately supported in other positions.
Sweden's regimented, well-rehearsed 4-4-2 created enough opportunities to put Denmark to sleep by half-time, but their forwards were caught dozing on the job.
On the right, Mikael Lustig and Jimmy Durmaz's outstanding overlap work culminated in an excellent opening goal for Forsberg.
Sweden's left-sided puppeteer later demonstrated why he should set his sights higher than Bundesliga 2 club RB Leipzig with a dazzling run into the box.
Thomas Kahlenberg brought him down, the highlight of a calamitous performer that appeared to involve impersonating an international defender.
Forsberg, last year's Swedish Midfielder of the Year, created the penalty for the omnipotent Swedish Footballer of the Year.
When Ibrahimovic tucked away his first goal in seven games against Denmark, the sound of gushing water could be distinctly heard. The floodgates were opening.
The Danes, hamstrung by a bizarre 4-1-4-1 formation that left William Kvist exposed and Nicklas Bendtner isolated, threatened to implode.
Instead, the eternal headache pounded away at Erik Hamren's temples. The Sweden coach has got a football immortal with no obvious back-up.
Ibrahimovic has played Butch Cassidy for far too long, carrying his 34-year-old limbs across the penalty box in search of the Sundance Kid.
Marcus Berg tried and failed his latest audition. The 29-year-old Panathinaikos forward spurned enough chances to make the second leg a victory dance through Denmark.
He missed a pair of comfortable headers. Had they been dealt to Ibrahimovic, they would've been a pair of aces.
When his illustrious partner chipped one over the Danish wall with the grace of a British Open contender escaping the sand at St Andrews, Berg bungled again.
As Ibrahimovic dropped deeper to link with Kim Kallstrom and Oscar Lewicki, Berg found himself overburdened and out of his depth.
Sweden needed their spiritual leader to both fetch and carry and finish off the Danes, but he couldn't be in two places at once, despite his messianic claims to the contrary.
Wherever he went, he left a hole that Berg couldn't fill. Nor could John Guidetti during the qualifying stages. It's Sweden's Euro 2016 campaign in a microcosm.
Ibrahimovic doesn't get the playing partners he deserves, so he withdraws in search of possession, to influence proceedings from a deeper position. He essentially hands his defensive opponents the initiative.
A back four is much easier to patrol when Ibrahimovic isn't trespassing.
Morten Olsen deserves credit for the double substitution, which included goal-scorer Nicolai Jorgensen replacing the hapless Kahlenberg.
But Denmark's coach was invited to a party that should've had the lights turned out, the tables cleared and the DJ sent home at least half an hour earlier.
Sweden's profligacy ruined Ibrahimovic's major tournament ambitions two years ago and threatens do so again this time.
An away goal, home advantage, superior centre-backs and, of course, Christian Eriksen, who should be the best midfielder on show in the second leg after a humdrum performance yesterday, gives Denmark the edge.
Ironically, Ibrahimovic needs his most unpleasant trait to come to the fore. His messiah complex must return if Sweden are to give their incomparable talisman the Indian summer he deserves.
With the obvious exception of Forsberg, his teammates can't be trusted to stick to the script.
Ibrahimovic has got to grab the pen and write the final chapter himself.
"You need a bit of luck when coming on as a substitute and I had that today. It was a great feeling, my first goal for Denmark."
— Denmark’s goal-scorer Nicolai Jorgensen
"You have to be confident. I think we have the players who can make the difference; it will be a different game."
— Denmark coach Morten Olsen on the return leg
It’s always disappointing to concede a goal. I thought our defence was good for 60 minutes. We have won the first game. We know it’s only half-time and ... it’s going to be exciting on Tuesday.
— Sweden coach Erik Hamren