Sweden beat Italy on Monday to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – its first appearance at the quadrennial showcase since 2006. Naturally, the first question out of everybody’s mouths at the final whistle: Will Zlatan Ibrahimovic be a part of that Sweden team in Russia next summer?
Zlatan was the subject of question No. 1 for Sweden manger Janne Andersson at his post-match news conference in Milan. And question No. 2. And question No. 3. Andersson wasn’t happy about that, and doesn’t have an answer yet. But the world wants to know.
Ibrahimovic, Sweden’s all-time leading goalscorer, retired from international soccer after Euro 2016, and has not played for the national team since. The 36-year-old is currently working his way back from a torn ACL, and has not played for Manchester United since the injury in April.
But the mercurial striker is targeting a January return to club soccer. So would he come out of international retirement for the World Cup? He was asked that question on the eve of Sweden’s playoff first leg against Italy. And he left the door open.
“No, my story with the national team is closed,” he told football-italia.net in response. “But then we’ll see what happens. It’d certainly be fun to go to Russia.”
After Monday’s match, two of Zlatan’s former international teammates, Kim Kallstrom and Jonas Olsson, were reportedly asked on Swedish TV whether they believed Ibrahimovic would unretire for the World Cup. Both reportedly said yes, they believe he will.
Ibrahimovic had attended the first leg, which Sweden won 1-0 in Solna.
After the final whistle of the second leg, Zlatan tweeted out a picture of the team with the caption, “We are Zweden”:
It’s unclear if Ibrahimovic will be in Russia. It’s unclear if he even knows yet whether he’ll be there. It’s also not a complete certainty that Sweden would be better off with him. The Zlatan-led Swedes failed to qualify in 2010 and 2014. In the past, they’ve adapted to accommodate their star. In their first qualifying campaign without him since Euro 2000, they scored 26 goals in 10 group games.
But Sweden would surely welcome him back – if nothing else, as an extraordinary substitute and plan B. He would still likely be the team’s second-best attacking player, behind Emil Forsberg. And given that Ibrahimovic failed to score at both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, he will surely want a third go … right?
Until he does announce a decision, the question will be on the tip of tongues in Sweden, and all over the globe.