Sweden star Zlatan Ibrahimovic happy to lead lesser lights against Ireland

Sweden training - EURO 2016

In the countdown to their opening game at Euro 2016, Sweden’s players have been subjected to a poll. It has been straightforward, featuring one question and one question only, and most of them have been asked it by now, at their various media appearances. Who, it has been put to them, is Sweden’s second best player?

Almost all of them have said Andreas Isaksson, the 34-year-old goalkeeper, possibly out of deference to one of the squad’s most senior players, but the midfielder Albin Ekdal decided to have a bit of fun. “Why? Who is the best one?” he said. His audience laughed.

Planet Zlatan must be a pretty cool place and the man himself offered a virtuoso display of self-belief on the eve of Sweden’s Group E tie against the Republic of Ireland in Paris evening. It came loaded with star quality and it was one that Ibrahimovic might hope will set the tone for his supporting cast – the mortals whose requirement it is to fill the other 10 places on his team.

“We always have pressure and, probably, I have the greatest pressure on my shoulders,” Ibrahimovic said, in response to an inquiry about the striker’s captaincy.

“I want to take the pressure off the team. I am used to it. So, I want to take the pressure off my team-mates as much as possible.”

For 15 minutes or so, Ibrahimovic lit up the pre-match press conference and there was one of several amusing moments when the moderator announced he would take “one last question for Zlatan” before moving on to the coach, Erik Hamren, who was seated alongside him. The request was ignored.

Ibrahimovic is entering the sixth major finals tournament of his career and he is plainly on a mission. “I feel really strong at the moment,” he said.

“I feel that I’m getting better and better, with every year that passes. It’s all about developing and learning new things and not being satisfied.

“You have to have the hunger to become a better player. I demand that I work hard, practise and don’t sit down. I know what I want. I know I am going to do it – simple as that.”

It was put to Ibrahimovic that he was yet to dominate an international tournament. “I have been dominating wherever I go,” he said. “I have no issue about that.

“I feel very confident, with a strong season behind me. I feel mentally very strong and I come here to enjoy – to France where I have been living for the last four years. I know the country well. I am 100% sure they know me better than I know them. Wherever I go I enjoy and I have been dominating wherever I go. No worries.”

Ibrahimovic, who is now a free agent after leaving Paris Saint-Germain – he is poised to sign for Manchester United – said he felt comfortable on what he considered to be his “home turf” in France and would enter the championship “with the freedom to play as good as I can”.

He offered an insight into how it was to play with his Sweden team-mates, as opposed to the global stars of PSG. “It’s about balance and being patient,” he said. “Be patient in what you expect from your team-mates. At PSG, I made more demands. Here, I can’t make the same demands of the players. I have good chemistry with all of the players. I work for them and they work for me.”

Ibrahimovic said he had arrived at PSG “like a king and left like a legend”. In which case, what was there possibly left for him to do? “The legend can still deliver,” he said.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Hytner in Paris, for The Guardian on Sunday 12th June 2016 17.51 Europe/London

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