PARIS (AP) — Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his famous ego are ready for their European Championship close-up.
Did anyone expect anything else from the iconic Sweden captain before his team’s opening match against Ireland on Monday?
Ibrahimovic was asked about extending his career ahead of his fourth straight European Championship and an expected move to Manchester United.
“Because the legend can still deliver,” the 34-year-old forward told reporters at Stade de France.
Though Ibrahimovic has scored two goals at each Euro tournament since 2004, Sweden has advanced from its group just once.
“I have been dominating wherever I go, I have no issue about that,” he said. “If you want it, you are able to do it. I know what I want, I know I’m going to do it.”
A goal against the Irish will give Ibrahimovic a competition record of scoring at four different editions. Cristiano Ronaldo is also chasing that mark in France, and both can match Michel Platini’s career Euros-scoring record of nine by getting a hat-trick.
Ibrahimovic has finally made a believer of the Ireland coach now working out how to stop him.
Martin O’Neill described the young Ibrahimovic as “the most over-rated player on the planet” when working as a 2006 World Cup analyst on British television.
“Well 10 years ago, that might have been the case,” O’Neill said Sunday. “He’s a top-class player. He’s one of the best in Europe, if not the world.”
Ireland has its own veteran forward, now playing for LA Galaxy. With 67 goals in 142 international matches, Robbie Keane measures up against Ibrahimovic’s 62 in 113.
Still, it was no surprise which of the two was being asked about the other on Sunday.
“He’s been doing it for a long, long time and he seems to be getting better and better,” the 35-year-old Keane said of Ibrahimovic.
One of Keane’s international goals was scored on a famous night at Stade de France in 2009. Ireland led 1-0 in a World Cup playoff that went into extra time when Thierry Henry handled the ball before setting up France’s decisive goal. The referee that night was from Sweden.
Now, Ireland and Sweden are focused on what could be their best chance at getting three points in Group E. The other teams in the group, Belgium and Italy, play Monday, too, in Lyon.
“I’m sure that Sweden are targeting us in the sense that they feel that if they could win this game against us, it gives them a great chance,” O’Neill said. “We must feel exactly the same way.”
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