Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s future had the British television stations flocking to Sweden’s Euro 2016 training base in Saint-Nazaire yesterday but manager Erik Hamren didn’t allow the distraction to diminish the confidence he exuded about getting off to a winning start against Ireland on Monday.
The Swedes intend remaining at the idyllic setting on the west coast of France a lot longer than their last trip to the tournament which, like Ireland’s, ended with group elimination.
Over 3,000 fans — and a couple of London-based reporters hawking Zlatan — turned out for the opening session, with Hamren reporting a clean bill of health within his 23-man squad in the wake of some injury scares last week.
After quashing any notion that transfer speculation surrounding Ibrahimovic could affect their preparations, insisting his captain won’t be allowed trek to England during the finals to finalise his proposed Manchester United move, Hamren turned to the serious business of trying to negotiate out of Group E which also includes Italy and Belgium.
Albin Ekdal, the highly-rated Hamburg attacking midfielder, could be ready to start against Ireland. His back wound has healed sufficiently to the extent he got on for the last half an hour of Sunday’s 3-0 win over Wales and was in the thick of the training yesterday.
“It felt like too big a step to have him ready for the opening match but things have changed through the improvements he’s made,” said Hamren. “His recovery has gone surprisingly fast and he is fighting for a place in the team.
“We will see if there is any reaction over the next couple of days but I do not expect it.” Looking ahead to the challenge facing his team at the Stade de France, the manager sounded decidedly more upbeat on taking points off Ireland than his previous soundbites.
“Ireland are a higher ranked team than us but I would say the outcome of the game is 50/50,” he reasoned.
“When we faced Denmark in the play-off last November, they were also ahead of us in the rankings and our record against them wasn’t good but we still won.
“The match against Wales on Sunday gave me many answers. I know most of my team but some places are still to be decided.” One player who cemented his place in his line-up following his goalscoring performance against the Welsh was their left-winger Emil Forsberg. Seamus Coleman will need to be on his guard to thwart the 24-year-old, who also scored, and won a penalty, against the Danes.
Based in Germany with Leipzig, Forsberg once netted against Drogheda United for his hometown club Malmo three years ago in a Europa League tie. His incisive runs have become a key attacking outlet for a Swedish side renowned for breaking at pace, with their wily skipper acting as the focal point supported by tricky wingers.
“Emil is playing really well for us but I know he has yet to peak in his career,” said Hamren.
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