Sweden draws a blank as Zlatan Ibrahimovic stays on the bench

Sweden 0 Slovenia 0: Sweden drew a blank last night in their penultimate pre-Euro friendly but Martin O’Neill shouldn’t get too excited as talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic was kept in reserve.

Sweden draws a blank as Zlatan Ibrahimovic stays on the bench

Similar to Ireland’s captain and No 10 Robbie Keane, the Swedish phenomenon is nursing an ankle knock, yet is expected to feature against Wales in Sunday’s send-off game in Stockholm.

In the town of his birth, Zlatan was the main protagonist without kicking a ball. The game against Slovenia was brought south to Malmo to coincide with the great man’s final lap on the international circuit but the best the faithful got from the 34-year-old were a few words at half-time expressing his sorrow for being restricted to a watching brief.

Bored at what Ibra’s supporting case produced on the pitch, the Swedish fans reserved their biggest cheers for the intermittent camera shots of their hero sunk into his seat in the dugout.

It’s true that Erik Hamren knows his squad well, having named it three weeks ago, but less certain is the starting team he’ll put out against Ireland on June 13.

Injury worries remain over Albin Ekdal and Emir Kujovic and although fears over Mikael Lustig’s availability eased last night by him playing the first-half, they’ve another last workout against the Welsh to negotiate before departing for France.

Such was the experimental nature of the Swedes that only five players in last night’s line-up had started more than half the games over their successful qualifying campaign.

Three members of the nation’s triumphant U21 European Champions of last year got the nod, including former Manchester City and Celtic striker John Guidetti.

In his homeland, Guidetti, 24, is admired and ridiculed in equal measure due to the erratic nature of his career and both sides of the frontman were evident at the Swedbank Stadium.

For all the guile he displayed in leading the line, his wastefulness in front of goal was the main reason for the stalemate. The Celta Vigo man has yet to score after eight full caps.

Unlike Sweden and Ireland, Slovenia won’t be participating at the Euros following their exit at the play-off stage to Ukraine but they enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges and threatened to dim the glow brightening the Swedes at present.

Veteran goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson saved them twice in the first half, firstly by diving low to keep out Roman Bezjak’s low drive and then denying the same player from point-blank range after a pass from Bayer Leverkusen’s Kevin Kampl dissected the defence.

Much improved after the break, Sweden still lacked a cutting edge in the final third. When a couple of chances were fashioned, Guidetti lost his nerve at the key moment. He blazed over on the hour from a good angle and somehow glanced his header wide from Oscar Hiljemark’s pinpoint cross.

O’Neill’s scout on duty will have noted how vulnerable the Swedes looked from set-pieces, now a speciality of Ireland’s weaponry given the threat posed by Robbie Brady’s free-kicks and corners.

Still, only one name will feature high on the do-list for the Derryman and that’s to find a way of stopping a player kept in cotton wool for the time being.

SWEDEN:

Isaksson; Lustig (Jannson 46), Granqvist, V Nilsson-Lindelöf, Durmaz; Larsson, Wernbloom (Rohden 71), Hiljemark, Forsberg (Zengin 46); Kiese-Thelin, Guidetti.

SLOVENIA:

Belec; Skubic (Jovic 86), Struna, Krajnc, Jokic; Kampl, Krhin (Rotman 88), Kronaveter (Kurtic 57); Ilicic (Struna 89), Beric (Novakovic 60), Bezjak (Crnic 82).

Referee:

Jacob Kehlet.

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