Don’t Mess with the Zlatan: Keane and Ireland Out to Silence Hitman

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the man we must shackle if we are to keep the visitors quiet and come away with a vital win on Friday night. With a career that’s taken in some of the world’s top clubs, Ireland will be up against it to stifle the Swedish captain, but our own form striker Robbie Keane’s record measures favourably against the PSG hitman.

Having missed the game in Stockholm, the Minister for Defence Richard Dunne is likely to return to meet the challenge of stopping the 6ft 5 Ikea wardrobe in the Swedish attack. Dunne’s physical presence was expected to be sorely missed in March but John O’Shea and Ciaran Clark admirably stepped into the breach. They reduced Ibrahimovic to a spectator as Ireland took the game to their opponents, something they will have to do again in Dublin. So how will the Boys in Green line-up?

Having started the season so well for QPR, Dunne is expected to return to the Irish backline but there is a question mark over left-back Marc Wilson who is nursing an ankle injury. In Stockholm, Paul Green was thrust into the fray in midfield with instructions to ‘Green-screen’ – protect the back four – but he was subsequently benched for the home game with Austria as Ireland attempted to get on the front foot. He’s unlilkey to displace Glenn Whelan or man-of-the-moment James McCarthy with Trapattoni’s men eager to chase the win that will reignite hopes of reaching a play-off. 

But as ever with Ireland, the shield for the back four must come from the centre of the pitch. In March, there were some suggestions that Trapattoni would dedicate a man-marker to contain Ibrahimovic but attempts to do the same against Arsenal new boy Mesut Ozil last October proved disastrous as we were completely overrun at the Aviva Stadium.

The often controversial Ibrahimovic is accused of being a prickly character off the field but on it, he’s physically strong and boasts a devastating finish. He’s won league titles with Ajax, Juve, Inter, Barca, AC Milan, and PSG.

“Zlatan’s current contract runs to 2015 and he was top scorer in Ligue 1 last season with 30 goals. Last November, he scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over England”

Despite the Swede’s formidable CV, our own captain Robbie Keane’s record measures up favourably and Ireland’s top caps holder is in red-hot form.

robbiekeanelaSome supporters have questioned if Robbie still has a part to play in the Irish team while others lament the lack of respect afforded to Ireland’s record goalscorer. He has 59 international goals while Ibrahimovic has 44 goals in 91 appearances for the Swedish national team. At 31, Zlatan is just two years younger than the Dubliner.

While Keane couldn’t claim to be of the same calibre of player as the Malmo native, the Tallghtman’s status as top international scorer from the UK and Ireland holds its own.

Both captains of their national sides, Ibrahimovic has one goal in four games for PSG so far this season. Keane has 12 goals in MLS already, earning his second player of the week accolade this week.

Keane notched an incredible 125 Premier League goals during his time in England while Ibrahimovic scored 122 in 219 Serie A games, spilt between periods at Inter and AC Milan. The Swede boasts 275 career strikes compared with the Irish skipper’s equally impressive 251.

“Keane recently said he hoped to play for a further 4 or 5 years as he can’t fathom the day he’ll have to hang up his boots. Meanwhile Ibrahimovic was accused of being arrogant and insulting his team-mates by fellow PSG player Lucas Moura.”

It’s astonishing that some Ireland fans accuse Keane of being driven by ego. Throughout his career, he risked being labelled a journeyman with the amount of transfers he was involved in but Keane chose to move rather than rot on the bench. This led to unfair charges of chasing money rather than match action although he was recently revealed as the 15th richest footballer in the world.

When it comes to egos though, few can compare with the ‘Zlatan’. He famously refers to himself in the third person and once uttered this gem to a class of school-children:

“I am the North, I am the South, I am the East, and I am the West. I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic.”

Last October, Ibrahimovic was branded ‘arrogant, dirty and childish’ by Faroese captain Frodi Benjaminsen who was detailed to mark him during Sweden’s narrow 2-1 victory in Tórshavn.

Ibrahimovic’s name has even been included in a dictionary in his homeland. The phrase. ‘to zlatan’  translating ‘to dominate on and off the field.’ In France, they’ve also adopted the verb, where it means ‘to succeed or absolutely nail a task.’

If Ireland are to come away with a result from Lansdowne Road and keep our dreams of Brazil alive, and potentially Giovanni Trapattoni still in charge, whoever is tasked with shutting out the Swede will need need to zlatan it on Friday.

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