Zlatan Sweden's weapon against the English
Published: 14 Jun 2012 14:54 GMT+02:00
Updated: 14 Jun 2012 14:54 GMT+02:00
Having lost to Ukraine in their opening Euro 2012 match, Sweden have a do-or-die Group D encounter with England on Friday - just the sort of scenario which ought to be meat and drink to the Scandinavians' top striker.
Yet the Swedes are in a bind as exactly how to use Zlatan Ibrahimovic, be it as a lone striker at the apex of their system or as more of a playmaker, a role he played to near perfection in a friendly win over Croatia last February.
But the question is - in which role is the 30-year-old more effective?
Certainly, 28 league goals for AC Milan last season - the best league haul of his career - showed all the qualities of a fox in the box, as did his goal for the Swedes in their loss in Kiev.
Yet his superb technique and ability to conjure something from nothing appears more in keeping with the role of a traditional number 10.
The problem is that in Kiev "Ibra" slipped effortlessly into the number nine role - as well as scoring he was involved in most of his side's chances, hitting the post and coming close with a meaty drive.
He did his best to turn provider late on with a fine lobbed pass to Johan Elmander, who could not finish the move off with an equaliser.
But for all his efforts at the head of the attack the Swedes could have done with a little bit more creativity just off the main striker.
For coach Erik Hamrén the ideal scenario is to have Ibrahimovic playing off
Elmander in a 4-4-1-1.
A foot injury for Elmander coming in the last game of the season for Turkish champions Galatasaray meant the former Bolton and Toulouse forward missed much of the build-up to the tournament and was only able to feature for 20 minutes in Monday's defeat.
That hit the Swedes with Marcus Rosenberg struggling to show his form before going off as Elmander replaced him.
Midfielder Kim Källström told French media after the Ukraine game that "the absence of Elmander is a problem, yes." But the Lyon man then added:
"Or not. Rosenberg played very well," he insisted.
Either way it seems a given that Elmander, who had three seasons with Bolton in the English Premier League, will start on Friday.
"I would like to play against the English. They relish the fight - that's what makes up the English game," he told reporters Tuesday.
The Swedes are not lacking in muscularity either, however. Elmander stands tall at at 1m88 with Ibrahimovic even taller at 1.94m.
After the championships Sweden expect their attacking agenda to change in that they hope to partner Ibrahimovic with 20-year-old John Guidetti, the country's new star in the making and whom the former has dubbed the future.
The striker, registered with Manchester City, is viewed as the natural successor to Ibrahimovic but has not played for his Dutch club Feyenoord since April 14 because of a nervous affliction that sees him lose all feeling in his right leg from time to time.