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Dublin: 3 °C Friday 15 November, 2019
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Creator, target, finisher: the damage done by Zlatan so far in this campaign

Sweden aren’t a one-man team yet all the talk is focused on one man. Here’s why.

“IBRA IS IBRA,” Giovanni Trapattoni said yesterday. “He can score. He can play where he wants.”

“At any given time he can produce something out of nowhere,” Ireland captain Robbie Keane said.

Sweden aren’t a one-man team yet, in the build-up to tonight’s crucial World Cup qualifier in Dublin, all of the talk has focused again on one man.

Star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored four goals so far in this campaign but his importance to Erik Hamren’s side goes far beyond the amount of times he puts the ball in the net. He is, unsurprisingly, the primary focus of their attacks, directing and dictating the moves of others when he isn’t finishing chances himself.

The lesson for Ireland appears simple: stop Zlatan and you stop Sweden. Here’s a snapshot of his contribution so far in this campaign.

Coming deep

This is Sweden’s first goal of the campaign, scored by Rasmus Elm against Kazakhstan. Forget about the scrappy finish; instead, watch how deep Ibrahimovic comes to create space between himself and his marker.

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With two quick touches he opens the play out completely, bringing Seb Larsson and Mikael Lustig into the game and creating a huge amount of space for them out on the right.

His job isn’t done yet either and if you track his run, he’s not only in the box when Lustig’s cross comes in — he’s the target before the Kazakh defender gets his foot in to knock it away.

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Back to goal

This is Alexander Kaciniklic’s equaliser from Sweden’s 2-1 win in the Faroe Islands. Again the marking on Ibrahmovic is not tight enough, particularly 20 yards from goal, and his second touch is slightly heavy which very nearly gets him into trouble.

But the move itself is superb. Under pressure, Ibrahimovic’s threaded pass splits two Faroese defenders and is perfectly weighted as Kaciniklic runs on into the space behind the line.

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Exploiting space

This week both Hamren and Zlatan said that they hoped Ireland would open up and allow space in behind the defence. Looking at the tape of Johan Elmander’s goal in the 2-1 defeat to Austria, you can see why.

This time Ibrahimovic doesn’t need to come as deep but the Austrian defence pushes up on him and plays a very high line. Look at how much space that leaves in behind as Elmander takes off past his marker.

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All it takes then is a beautiful touch from Ibrahimovic as he turns and Elmander is in for a one-on-one with the goalkeeper. More evidence that forcing Zlatan deep and away from goal is no guarantee of keeping him quiet.

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Running at defences

The move which led to Sweden’s second goal against Kazakhtan started with Ibrahimovic back on the half-way line, looking for the ball and the opportunity to run into space.

It’s a scenario familiar to anyone who has watched him play and evidence of just how dangerous he can be if he’s facing a defender with the ball at his feet.

(Of course it helps that the defence switched off completely and ignored Marcus Berg — circled and charging through the middle with his hand in the air — as he stole in to get on the end of Ibra’s cross.)

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Doing it himself

Sure he likes creating goals for others but this is Zlatan — he wants to get in on the act himself as well.

This is his winner against the Faroes. From the still below, he looks to be fairly well-marshalled by two defenders:

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But as play develops, they switch off and by the time Pontus Wernbloom dinks the ball into the space behind them, Ibra has a yard and a half on them.

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Up in the air

This man is 6’5″ — of course he’s good in the air. 4-0 up with a half-hour left, Germany’s attempts to play the ball out of the back broke down thanks to some dogged Swedish battling.

Kim Kallstrom spotted Ibrahmovic had gotten the right side of his marker and, one pinpoint delivery later, the comeback was on.

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Trap channels spirit of Stockholm as Ireland bid to keep World Cup dream alive

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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