Against Belgium, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has one last chance to make an impression at Euro 2016 or Sweden could be out.
While Romelu Lukaku silenced many of his critics with two goals in Belgium’s 3-0 victory over Ireland, one other highly-vaunted striker of whom much was expected, has a final opportunity to make an impression at Euro 2016.
Swedish star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is yet to score at Euro 2016 and is goalless in his last four games for Sweden. His team, which has become increasingly reliant on the PSG forward, could do with him now.
The 34-year-old will retire from international football after the tournament and remains determined to go out on a high.
“To finish with a disappointment – never,” he said in characteristically modest fashion on Tuesday.
Not only is the Swede without a goal at Euro 2016, he has yet to hit the target, a dismal statistic shared by his team-mates who are the only team yet to register a shot on target at the tournament.
Sweden Erik Hamrén acknoledegd the importance of the talismanic Ibrahimovic, but he said the team could not rely on him alone.
“Zlatan means a lot to us, as he’s shown in the past,” said Hamrén. “In qualifying he decided most of our games; he’s a big part of our attack but he can’t do it alone. We have to be better in our offence as a team.
“Should we start the game on the attack and risk conceding or start out more carefully? That’s something I have a little bit more time to figure out how exactly to balance, but we need to respect Belgium. They have a very strong attack and a couple of individual players who are very skilful. We have to stop them. If we can do that we will also create chances ourselves.
“But if we think that we can just go out there, do whatever and forget all about their qualities, they will punish us. It has to be about using our brains and neutralising them. My message to the players is that we have everything to play for. If we get a good result we’re still in it; if we get a bad result we’re out of the tournament.”
Belgium Marc Wilmots has warned his players not to become emotionally involved in the au revoir Zlatan narrative.
“Zlatan could be a danger because it is perhaps his final game and he will obviously want to go out with a bang,” he said. Wilmots. “But that will depend on us. We must avoid any emotional attachment. Even if the manager is going to retire, even if Ibrahimović is going to retire, even if other players are going to retire. That is Sweden’s issue, not ours.
“This is another cup final. I hope we have a lot of possession, pass the ball about well and make them run as much as possible, while managing to create a lot of chances and, hopefully, putting them away.
“Sweden are a very compact team, who defend well with two solid banks of four and two up top, who are very skilful. So we need to be very cautious and very compact ourselves.”
Sweden will again be without right-back Mikael Lustig due to a groin strain.
Hamren looks set to stick with Marcus Berg up front, ahead of John Guidetti, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s strike partner.
Belgium midfielder Mousa Dembele is unlikely to be risked after suffering an ankle injury against the Republic of Ireland, so Radja Nainggolan may start.
Sweden: Isaksson; Lindelöf, Johansson, Granqvist, Olsson; Larsson, Ekdal, Källström, Forsberg; Berg, Ibrahimović.
Belgium: Courtois; Meunier, Alderweireld, Vermaelen, Vertonghen; Witsel, Nainggolan; Mertens, De Bruyne, Hazard; Lukaku.