Zlatan Ibrahimovic had bagged a brilliant brace for Sweden. Cristiano Ronaldo had nevertheless gone one better to ensure Portugal won their playoff for a place at Brazil 2014.
Ibrahimovic duly retired from international football, aged 34, after UEFA EURO 2016. The FIFA World Cup™ had, seemingly, seen the last of a player more polarising than the Vuvuzela.
Zlatan, however, doesn’t do scripts. The 39-year-old recently announced he was returning to the Sweden fold for Qatar 2022 qualifying – and like only he could.
When Zlatan made his Sweden debut…
Date: 31 January 2001
Wikipedia had been launched two weeks earlier.
Camera phones didn’t exist in Europe. The Xbox and MySpace hadn’t been launched.
Independent Woman by Destiny’s Child, It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy, Beautiful Day by U2, Love Don’t Costa a Thing by Jennifer Lopez and Ms. Jackson by Outcast were high on singles’ charts across the globe.
Michael Schumacher had just won the first of a record five straight Formula One World Championships.
Pedri, of Group B rivals Spain, was almost two years off being born.
Films Ocean’s Eleven, The Fast and the Furious and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – the first instalment in the Harry Potter film series – had yet to be released.
“Arsene Wenger asked me to have a trial with Arsenal when I was 17. I turned it down. Zlatan doesn’t do auditions.”
“First I went left; he did too. Then I went right and he did too. Then I went left again and he went to buy a hot dog.” On bamboozling Stephane Henchoz during Ajax-Liverpool
“What Carew does with a football, I can do with an orange.”
“Nothing. She already has Zlatan.” On what he was getting his wife for her birthday
“Lions don’t compare themselves to humans.” On why he didn’t say himself when asked who was the best striker in the Premier League
Europe’s top-scoring internationals
Ibra and the World Cup
Ibrahimovic played a bit-part role as Sweden reached Korea/Japan 2002 and fell in the Round of 16. He hit eight goals in eight games in Germany 2006 qualifying, but failed to get his first World Cup goal as Lars Lagerback’s team lost to the hosts in the first knockout round. The hulking forward dazzled again in the Brazil 2014 preliminaries, but Portugal pipped Sweden for a ticket to the finals.
Group B (European qualifying for Qatar 2022)
Spain, Sweden, Greece, Georgia, Kosovo
Other key players
Victor Lindelof (Manchester United), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Dejan Kulusevski (Juventus), Alexander Isak (Real Sociedad).