Zlatan Ibrahimovic has ruled out a return to international football even if Sweden beat Italy in the World Cup play-offs and reach the finals in Russia next year. The 36-year-old won his last cap – his 116th – at Euro 2016 and has this week reiterated that he is now fully focused on regaining his fitness to play for Manchester United again.
“I am not thinking about Sweden or the World Cup,” he told Sky Sports Italy. “I am just thinking about returning to full fitness as soon as possible. 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. Either way it would be beautiful if Sweden reached the World Cup.”
Italy have not missed out on a World Cup since 1958 and are favourites to go through to the finals with the first leg in Sweden on Friday and the second in Italy on Monday. Ibrahimovic, however, thinks that the current Sweden team are able to play with less pressure now that he is not around.
“Now, when I am not a part of the team they are playing with less pressure. People are expecting less. When I was there everyone expected that the team would win the World Cup or the Euros. My impression is that that has changed now and that they will play without any pressure whatsoever and have nothing to lose.
Sweden finished second in their group behind France with Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen playing most games up front. RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg has taken over as the team’s star player.
“If I listened to my ego then Sweden would, of course, be a better team with me,” added Ibrahimovic. “But the team has done it really well so far, secured second place in a difficult group [ahead of Holland] and been given this chance to play in the play-offs. The strength of this team is the group.”
The Roma midfielder, Daniele De Rossi, meanwhile, has said that Italy must be angry against Sweden to win the two-legged play-off. “Losing this play-off would be a black mark on my career,” he said. “The experience [we have got in the team] counts for a lot but we also have to be angry, furious, lucid and organised.
“The fact that they are without Ibrahimovic is always an advantage. Even if he was 40 and with a broken leg, I wouldn’t want to play against him. But the Sweden squad is not an unknown team without him and won’t just lie down for us to win.”
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