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Ibrahimovic breaks Irish shackles on potential Parisian swansong

Despite the Republic of Ireland’s diligent best efforts, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was never going to go quietly.

The 34-year-old forward might have collected seven league titles across Netherlands, Italy and Spain before arriving at Paris Saint-Germain, but the French capital will always be the place where he finally lived up to the self-made myth.

In Paris, Zlatan dared to Zlatan like Zlatan had never dared before. 

A 50-goal haul this season while becoming the club’s all-time record scorer led PSG to a fourth-consecutive Ligue 1 title. Three Coupe de la Ligue titles and two Coupe de France medals – won in successive treble successes  -have also followed.

Perhaps it isn’t so hard to see why the enigmatic Swede suggested a statue of Eiffel Tower-proportions would persuade him against a PSG departure now confirmed. At the very least he deserved an encore.

And so, a little more than three weeks on from an Ibrahimovic brace helping PSG to a 4-2 Coupe de France final triumph over rivals Marseille in the Stade de France, he led out his country for the start of their Euro 2016 campaign.

Additionally, there was the chance to pip Cristiano Ronaldo to becoming the first man to score in four separate European Championships – a delicious prospect given the often barely disguised contempt Ibrahimovic displays for his fellow global superstar.

The winners of Group E will return to Saint-Denis, those in third could play a quarter-final here and the man linked heavily to Manchester United may yet take on PSG in the opposing dressing room

But the fact remains this was possibly Ibrahimovic’s last tango in a city he made his own. 

It was one he began without dance partners as Ireland carried the greater threat. Ibrahimovic’s most significant contribution in the opening quarter of an hour was blocking a near-post corner and dribbling out of the Sweden box.

He slipped up in his defensive responsibilities shortly afterwards as Ciaran Clark won a flick on and Ireland captain John O’Shea should have converted.

Further close shaves followed – most notably Jeff Hendrick rattling the crossbar – and there was nothing by way of comparison to excite the many thousands resplendent in Swedish yellow.

Their hero shimmied effortless past O’Shea on the edge of the edge of the Ireland box, an off-key pass and lethargic touch from recipient Sebastian Larsson ending that foray, but Ibrahimovic was generally strangled in search of such room as two narrow four-man midfields did their best impression of Paris city centre traffic.

A rancid free-kick scuffed into the base of the wall was the low point of his first-half work, and things would get worse when Wes Hoolahan smashed home shortly after the interval.

Standing in isolation from the green pandemonium, Zlatan was first to the centre circle, with the ball retrieved and trying to cajole his weary colleagues.

The pre-Paris Ibrahimovic might have sulked, but this is the city where the myth became a man. He rolled-up his sleeves, he fought and Sweden followed.

Ireland survived a flurry of corners more by luck than judgement before Ibrahimovic outmuscled O’Shea and his stabbed volley crept wide with goalkeeper Darren Randolph rooted.

An impeccably drilled Ireland backline were beginning to see the finish line when it happened. Ibrahimovic was alive to a cute backheel from substitute John Guidetti and tore around O’Shea to smash across the face of goal, where the unfortunate Clark diverted the ball past Randolph.

Ibrahimovic’s momentum almost vaulted him over the advertising hoardings. He let out a roar of delight at one more joyous moment in a city where he provided so many.

Mon 13 Jun, 2016
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