He is Zlatan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the man we must shackle if we are to have any chance of taking something from Stockholm. 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 hit-man.

With Richard Dunne missing, the challenge of stopping the 6ft 5 Ikea wardrobe of a man looks all the more onerous. Dunne’s physical presence will be sorely missed and others will have to step into the breach.  How does Ireland’s defence measure up? O’Shea is 6ft 3, St Ledger is 6ft, O’Dea is 6ft 1, while newcomer Clark is 6ft 2. So who will get the nod?

In training in Malahide this week, Ireland’s centre-back pairing has featured Sean St Ledger and Ciaran Clark while there are some hints that Paul Green may start on Friday with instructions to track the Swedish talisman.

But as ever with Ireland, the shield for the back four must come from midfield. There are some suggestions that Trapattoni will dedicate a man-marker to contain Ibrahimovic but attempts to do the same against Germany’s 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, and AC Milan. In the summer of 2009, he transferred to the Nou Camp for €69 million, the second highest transfer fee in football history.

“Zlatan’s current contract with PSG runs to 2015 and he is top scorer in Ligue 1 with 25 goals. Last November, he scored all four goals in a 4-2 win over England at the venue where Ireland will play on Friday.”

Despite the Swede’s formidable CV, our own captain Robbie Keane’s record measures up favourably. With all the furore over Kevin Doyle’s omission, Keane is our current form forward.

Some Irish 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 53 international goals while Ibrahimovic has 35 goals in 84 appearances for the Swedish national team. At 31, Zlatan is just a year 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 currently has two goals in the UEFA Champions League. Keane has two in the CONCACAF equivalent and has hit the ground running in the new MLS campaign.

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 265 career strikes compared with the Irish skipper’s equally impressive 240.

“This week, Keane 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 Stockholm 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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