Euro 2016

Ibra both grateful and proud

An emotional forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic applauding Swedish fans at the end of the match against Belgium in Nice. He has long been the outsized icon of the side but was unable to take them beyond the last eight of a major tournament.
An emotional forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic applauding Swedish fans at the end of the match against Belgium in Nice. He has long been the outsized icon of the side but was unable to take them beyond the last eight of a major tournament.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Swedish star bows out on sour note without a shot on target but will be great loss to team

NICE • In France, the country where Zlatan Ibrahimovic has won so many hearts as he played out the past few years of his career in his own inimitable style at Paris Saint-Germain, a yellow curtain fell.

Sweden put their guts into a last dance, but it was a brutal, thumping strike from another player who likes to think he has a big personality - Belgium's Radja Nainggolan - which whisked the wind out of their sails.

Ibrahimovic, 34, watched on from the centre circle. He knew. He has etched so many defining moments of his own and he knew.

Sweden bid farewell to Ibrahimovic with noisy tributes but no goals, and exited the European Championship meekly after a 1-0 defeat by Belgium.

The brash giant of football ended his 116-cap international career on Wednesday with 62 often spectacular goals yet not a shot on target during Sweden's three matches at Euro 2016.

Ibrahimovic brushed away the disappointment of elimination at the group stage and said he was proud of having emerged from "the ghetto" to become Sweden's record goal-scorer. "It's heavy, it's disappointing, but at the same time, I enjoyed it," he said.

IT WAS A GOOD RUN

It's heavy, it's disappointing, but at the same time, I enjoyed it.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC, on losing in his final international match.

"This was my last game in the national team. I have many fantastic memories, because it's a nice story because where I came from, a little... what people call the ghetto, and I made that country my country."

He will be dearly missed by Sweden and many of their opponents, as the Zlatan portraits on yellow flags and thousands of Swedish fans chanting his name to the Pet Shop Boys song "Go West" testified.

Triumphant Belgian fans in the Nice stadium only slightly spoilt the occasion when they changed the words to "Bye Bye Ibrahimovic".

"I hoped for a better finish for him," said Sweden coach Erik Hamren, who admitted he was losing a rare talent.

"I hope we can find another player, not a Zlatan as I don't think in a small country like Sweden you can find someone like that, he's really unique."

"He is a big personality of football, I told him 'bravo' for your career. I was a player myself so I know how it feels when you finish your international career," said Belgian coach Marc Wilmots.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ibrahimovic thanked supporters who he said "made it possible for me to achieve what I have achieved".

"So wherever I go, wherever I come, I'll always bring the Swedish flag with me and stand with it. So for me disappointment doesn't exist, only pride, and gratitude. I'm very thankful. So thank you," he said.

He made his international debut against the Faroe Islands in January 2001, but he has been unable to fire Sweden beyond the quarter-finals of a major tournament.

He famously said the 2014 World Cup in Brazil would "not be worth watching" after Sweden lost a two-legged play-off to Portugal and failed to qualify for the event.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2016, with the headline 'Ibra both grateful and proud'. Print Edition | Subscribe