The Sweden captain looks ahead to the two-legged play-off with Portugal on Friday and Tuesday: “We came second in a group with Germany, while they were in a group they were supposed to win. The onus is on me to take my country to Brazil”
Once upon a time there was Gunnar Gren. He was the first winner of the Guldbollen, the Swedish player of the year award set up in 1946. Since then a number of players have won it twice – Henrik Larsson, Fredrik Ljungberg, Patrik Andersson and Tomas Brolin – but nobody has won it eight times like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The big man received his latest award from Aftonbladet, Sweden’s main national paper, and the Swedish FA in Stockholm last night at a national football gathering, just a few days before the World Cup play-off with Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Portugal.
“The more I win the better it gets,” Zlatan laughed during his interview with Aftonbladet. “This way it will be even more difficult to beat my record in future. I’m not planning on stopping either,” he added, more seriously. “I’m not satisfied yet, I always want to win more and keep on improving. I’m having a fantastic career and I’m trying to enjoy every day of it.”
You are in good form at the moment, both with PSG and Sweden.
“Yes, I feel good. Very good. But as I said, I always want more. Every time I play the most difficult opponent is myself. I want to do better than what I’ve done before, every season, every day.”
Now you have the play-off with Portugal. Are you ready for it?
“Yes, I feel good with Sweden as well, fired up and motivated. I want to beat the Swedish goalscoring record and become Sweden’s all-time top scorer. There are lots of little things which keep me going, giving me fresh incentive.”
How do you feel going into the Portugal tie?
“The qualifying phase hasn’t been easy. We had some tough games but that helped motivate us. Then there’s the new stadium [the Friends Arena in Solna], the fact that I’m captain, that I have to lead my team to the World Cup… They’re all things that help get me up for it. I’ve got the experience now too, so I know what I need to get myself firing on all cylinders.”
What do you know about Portugal? There’s a lot of talk about the duel between Zlatan and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Of course…” he grins. “We’re in the play-offs and we’ve done very well so far. With the individuals and the team they have, Portugal are clearly the favourites. But we came second in a group with Germany, which I think is the best team in Europe, whereas they came second in a group they were supposed to win, so I think we deserve to go to Brazil more. They’re stronger as a team but if we can cut our mistakes down to a minimum we can do it. It’s going to be difficult but then it should be because there’s a place at the World Cup at stake.”