PARIS (Reuters) – In the city where they are accustomed to savouring his magic, Zlatan Ibrahimovic once again failed to live up to his own exalted billing for Sweden as he went missing in their fortuitous 1-1 draw with Ireland.
It might have been Ibra’s cross that Ciaran Clark headed into his own net to salvage a point for Sweden in their Euro 2016 group E clash but, otherwise, the 34-year-old Paris St. German hero was an anonymous figure as his side failed to manage a single shot on target.
“We lack quality,” captain Ibrahimovic said following the final whistle, hinting that his team mates really had to share the blame.
“When you think of the balls I got … I try, but I can do much better.”
Yes, much better. For all of his dazzling performances down the years, particularly in the City of Light for PSG, Ibra has often been found wanting on the biggest stages of all and again he struggled to find any sort of rhythm in the place he has called home for the last four years.
There were echoes of his anaemic performances for PSG — he leaves the French champions on a transfer this summer — when they crashed out of this year’s Champions League against Manchester City.
Linked with a big-money move and a reunion with Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, the ease with which he was subdued by Ireland’s journeyman defence poses serious questions as to whether he could thrive in the English Preimer League.
Wes Hoolahan had put Ireland ahead just after halftime with a peach of a goal, but Clark’s howler under pressure in the 71st minute gave the Swedes a share of the spoils which they hardly deserved.
Zlatan wasn’t the only one who failed to deliver, with the Swedes looking extremely nervous in the first half as they struggled to get to grips with the busy midfielder Hoolahan.
The skill and trickery of Ireland’s goalscorer was one of few bright spots in a turgid opening half that was littered with errors and sloppy play, but at least the Irish defence managed to keep Ibrahimovic quiet.
Centre back John O’Shea and his partner Clark combined well with combative midfielder Glenn Whelan to smother Ibra, with one of the trio shadowing his every move.
“I thought the players played him exceptionally well today, I thought that we were dominant in that aspect,” Ireland coach Martin O’Neill told a media conference.
“We forced him away from our goal as much as we could, it worked a treat. The players have to take great credit for that.”
Ibrahimovic’s only decent chance came in the second half but he failed to get a decent connection with Martin Olsson’s cross, scuffing the ball wide with his left foot while tightly marked.
On one of the few occasions he did get free, Zlatan combined well with Emil Forsberg and John Guidetti to break down the left of Ireland’s penalty area before hammering the ball across the goal only for Clark, calamitously, to head into his own net.
But even that intervention could not disguise the anonymity of Ibra’s performance.
With Italy up next and Belgium waiting in the wings, Sweden’s undisputed leader on and off the field will have to up his game considerably if they are to have any chance of making the knockout stage.
“We now have two matches left and we need to take the necessary points,” Ibrahimovic said.
To do so, he will have to find a way of eluding defenders considerably more gifted than those fielded by the Irish.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor; Editing by Ian Chadband)