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Swedish striker Ibrahimovic has matured: Lagerback

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 16 Jun 2008

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Fiery Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has matured both as a player and as a person, national coach Lars Lagerback said on Monday.

Lagerback also denied that they had had a personal problem over the coach's decision to punish the Inter Milan striker by leaving him out of the national squad in 2006 after he went out drinking.

However, although Lagerback didn't claim this piece of disciplinary action had prompted a change of direction in 'Ibracadabra', he said he was delighted he had matured.

That maturity has been reflected here at Euro 2008 as he has scored two of their three goals — ending his three year goal drought for the national side taking his total to 20 in 52 appearances — and played through the pain barrier with a sore left knee.

“He has matured as a person and as a player,” said Lagerback, who has been sole coach since Euro 2004 having been joint coach with Tommy Soderbergh from 2000.

“Some young players don't understand everything, and he really helps them as he is a real team player. He is a positive man to have on and off the pitch. Every team would benefit in having such a player,” gushed Lagerback, who turns 60 in July.

Lagerback, who has been coach of virtually every age group in the Swedish national set-up, said that overall his relationship with the 26-year-old had been good.

“I can't say we have had so many up and downs, we have had a good relationship since he joined the national team,” said Lagerback.

The drinking episode, he said, “was an isolated incident”.

“I don't think he agrees with me about my decision, after that everything went fine, in my opinion there is no problem.

“He is a 100 percent professional player, he knows what he has to do.”

Lagerback, though, was still uncertain as to whether the former Ajax and Juventus star could play the full 90 minutes against Russia in their final Group D match on Wednesday where the Swedes need just a draw to make the quarter-finals.

“I can't say if he is fit enough to play 90 minutes,” said Lagerback.

“The situation was the same before the Greece (a 2-0 win) and Spain (a 2-1 loss) games, during the games he feels a little bit of pain, we want to be careful with him.

“It's about the same situation as it was before the first two games.

“I guess he will start the game, but I can't say today (Monday).”

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