Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, center, celebrates scoring his side's first goal during World Cup 2022 qualifier group A soccer game between Sweden and Georgia at Friends Arena in Stockholm, Thursday March 25, 2021.

Pontus Lundahl/The Associated Press

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s first contribution came after barely five seconds, when he gave away a foul by clambering all over Georgia’s captain in an aerial challenge.

Within a minute, he’d been penalized again – this time for charging into the back of the opposition centre back.

There was no doubting Ibrahimovic was fired up for his first appearance for Sweden in nearly five years after coming out of international retirement. The 39-year-old striker just needed to channel his boyish enthusiasm in the right way.

Story continues below advertisement

It wouldn’t take long.

In the 35th minute, Ibrahimovic received a high, floating ball into the area with a deft piece of control on his chest, before scooping the ball behind his marker and into the middle.

Viktor Claesson did the rest with a touch and low finish but it was Ibrahimovic receiving most of the acclaim from Sweden’s celebrating players for a goal that secured a 1-0 win over Georgia on Thursday in the teams’ opening qualifier for the 2022 World Cup.

So, Zlatan is back in the yellow and blue of Sweden, for the first time since Euro 2016. The opposition was modest, the Friends Arena in Stockholm was empty, but the return of the country’s greatest player meant it was one of the most noteworthy Sweden matches for some time.

In his typical brash manner, Ibrahimovic had branded it “The return of the God” and said he wanted to put in the kind of performance that would lead to the stadium being named after him.

As it was, Ibrahimovic flitted in and out of a low-quality game after being handed a start alongside Alexander Isak up front. The AC Milan striker had some nice touches – like for the goal – but never came close to adding to his Swedish-record tally of 62 goals for Sweden, in what was his 117th international appearance, before getting substituted in the 84th minute.

He was booked in the 54th for apparently arguing with the referee, maybe a sign of his growing frustration at the way the game was unfolding.

Story continues below advertisement

“I’m new to this playing system,” Ibrahimovic said. “That will come. We made a little too many simple mistakes. If we can reduce them, we can become more dangerous in the attacking game. It will get better.”

His presence, however, did add some star power to a hard-working if unspectacular team built by Janne Andersson. And his experience was put to use, with Ibrahimovic seen giving tactical advice to 20-year-old Dejan Kulusevski during the warm-ups and also talking to Isak, another of Sweden’s up-and-coming stars.

Sweden coach Janne Andersson looks set to continue with Ibrahimovic and Isak, who plays for Real Sociedad, as the strike partnership – Kosovo is the next opponent on Sunday – though he did acknowledge some teething problems.

“Both play alone up front for their club teams, and it is clear that not everything will be right after a training session together,” Andersson said. “There were some nice trends, but in general I think we used our forwards too little.

“I absolutely believe that it is an attacking pair that can create good stuff in the future, but here we had little to work with.”

It was clearly a big night for Ibrahimovic, who spoke ahead of the game about how much he had missed playing for his country.

Story continues below advertisement

He was the last person from the team to walk out before kickoff and he rubbed his hands as he emerged from the tunnel. Before lining up for the national anthem, he stepped back and looked around a stadium he famously inaugurated with a four-goal display against England in a friendly match in 2012.

There were no such fireworks nine years on.

But, with his assist for the winning goal, Ibrahimovic at least made his mark on a night he became the oldest player to feature for Sweden’s men’s team.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies