Football: ‘Past, present & future’ Zlatan back in Sweden squad after knee injury

Veteran Sweden forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic at a press conference in Solna on March 21, 2023, ahead of the Euro 2024 qualifier against Belgium. PHOTO: AFP

STOCKHOLM – Sweden have welcomed back Zlatan Ibrahimovic from a knee injury ahead of their opening European Championship qualifier on Friday, with the striker cheekily declaring himself “the past, present and future” of the side.

The 41-year-old recently returned from a 14-month injury layoff and netted a penalty for AC Milan in their 3-1 defeat at Udinese over the weekend to become the oldest player to score in Italy’s Serie A.

He is now setting his sights on the opening Euro qualifier against Belgium in Stockholm.

Asked whether he intended to take his side all the way to the Finals in Germany in June 2024, Ibrahimovic gave a tongue-in-cheek response reminiscent of his more bombastic younger self.

“If I feel good and I’m selected by the coach, I will help him, the team and the country to do my best. So I think at my age you cannot think future, you think present – even if I am the past, present and the future,” he said with a wry smile.

Ibrahimovic, who is Sweden’s top scorer with 62 goals in 121 games but without an international goal since November 2015, revealed that he had undergone three knee operations in the last 14 months.

“Basically, my knee was swollen for eight, nine months, but then suddenly, one month ago, something happened and then everything became positive, and I got energy from it,” he said.

“From there, we could work more and more, so from standing still for eight months, suddenly I could move normally, and then from normal I tried to play the game, and it become good, and from there I step it up.”

Sweden are in Group F with Belgium, Austria, Azerbaijan and Estonia, with the top two teams qualifying for the Finals.

Belgium’s players are eager to prove themselves to new coach Domenico Tedesco, who replaced Roberto Martinez after their group-stage exit at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, winger Leandro Trossard said.

Tedesco has already dropped veterans Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel for the clash against Sweden on Friday and a friendly against Germany.

“I think Tedesco is a manager who likes to put his opponents under pressure and create chances by winning the ball high up the pitch, that’s quite a difference with Martinez,” Trossard said.

“The new manager wants to build a new squad with a lot of dynamic play, which we already saw in the training sessions. Everybody’s very eager to show themselves, that can only benefit us as a team.”

Trossard has established himself as a regular at Premier League leaders Arsenal in recent weeks after joining them from Brighton & Hove Albion in January.

“I maybe didn’t expect to play that many minutes, but injuries (with other players) helped me a bit,” he added.

“I’m however more than convinced of my own capabilities. I arrived in a great group, filled with great players.” REUTERS

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