Former Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic said retiring from the national team has allowed the country to play without pressure as his departure lowered expectations.
Manchester United striker Ibrahimovic ended his international career following Euro 2016 after 116 caps and a record 62 goals.
Ibrahimovic-less Sweden are preparing for Friday’s opening leg of their 2018 World Cup play-off against Italy in Stockholm, and the 36-year-old said while his absence is felt, Janne Andersson’s men are still a talented team.
“Sweden are playing without pressure, because since I left, nobody expects much of them now, from the media to the fans. When I play, the level is raised, so it is lowered in my absence,” Ibrahimovic told Sky Sport Italia.
“Having said that, this squad remains a good collective, just with less responsibility on their shoulders. The players are not very experienced, but the project is ambitious.”
Daniele De Rossi and Italy are looking to make the most of Ibrahimovic’s absence in their pursuit of a 15th World Cup appearance.
Roma veteran De Rossi knows Ibrahimovic all too well, having faced the Swedish great during his time at AC Milan, Juventus and Inter.
And De Ressi said he is relieved not to be coming up against Ibrahimovic, telling reporters: “The fact that [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic is out, is clearly an advantage for every team that can face Sweden.
“I wouldn’t play against Ibrahimovic even if he was 40 years old and with a broken leg. Of course, his absence is an advantage however, Sweden are not an unknown team. We know many Swedish players, many of them play in Europe and Italy. It is not either an unknown or a second-tier team.
“The World Cup is important for me and I played already three of them. This is even more true for Sweden who had less opportunities so they will give all they have, and we will have to do the same.”
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