Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic is relishing the prospect of facing global superstar and his old team-mate, Lionel Messi, in tonight’s clash with Argentina in Solna.
Sweden face the Republic of Ireland next month in a match crucial to both sides hopes of World Cup qualification. For now though, Ibrahimovic is happy as the world’s greatest player is coming to town.
“It’s really exciting for us and for the fans,” said the Paris St Germain player. “For my own part, it will be great to welcome Messi to Sweden. He’s a fantastic player who I respect in every way.”
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has admitted his concern over Sweden’s aerial threat.
Sabella has a strong squad to choose from, with Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain giving him enviable options up front, but it is the other end of the pitch that is giving him most concern, with the threat of Paris St Germain striker Ibrahimovic sure to be a stern test for his defence.
“Sweden are a well-organised team,” Sabella said. “They are physical, run a lot. We have watched a lot of recent games like the ones against Brazil, Germany and England.
“Ibrahimovic is almost the owner of the team. He plays at playmaker, forward. He is great.”
Sabella also paid tribute to captain Messi, who netted his 45th goal of the season in Barcelona’s 1-1 draw at Valencia at the weekend and will provide the attacking focal point for his country tomorrow.
“He is the captain of our team, the symbol,” Sabella said.
“Everybody wants to see him play the whole match — only the opposition doesn’t.”
Messi will formally sign a new Barcelona contract when he returns from international duty later this week tying him to the Catalan giants until June 30, 2018.
Meanwhile Austria are using their meeting with Wales tonight as preparation for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers against the Republic of Ireland.
Coach Marcel Koller said: “It is hard to find two teams who play exactly the same. Ireland are placed higher than Wales in the FIFA rankings, so we expect them to be stronger but I don’t think there will be much difference.”
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