Ibrahimovic was the hero as 10-man Barcelona defeated arch rivals Real Madrid in an enthralling ‘El Clasico’ at Camp Nou to move top of the table by two points on Sunday.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who was exceptional, both started but it was Ibrahimovic, back from injury, who stole the limelight volleying in a 56th minute winner just five minutes after coming on.
“It is such a great feeling especially after just coming back from injury,” beamed Ibrahimovic.
“The cross from Dani (Alves) was brilliant and I just slotted it in.”
Barca were reduced to 10 men when Sergi Busquets stupidly handballed just after the hour mark and needed some heroics from captain Carles Puyol
Real missed some clear-cut chances with Ronaldo spurning a glorious chance to put Real ahead after just 19 minutes.
“We had so many chances so I don’t think 1-0 is a fair result,” said Real captain Iker Casillas.
“I don’t really care about the image we portrayed I care about winning games but the luck wasn’t with us tonight.”
It was a third successive Clasico win for Barca who are still unbeaten this season and nudge Real off the summit holding a two-point lead over their rivals.
Ronaldo started for the first time since the end of September with his ankle holding up. Karim Benzema dropped to the bench and was joined by captain Raul.
Barcelona started with Messi who shrugged off a thigh strain but Ibrahimovic was on the bench with a thigh strain of his own so Thierry Henry kept his place in attack.
It was touted as the Clasico between Real’s ‘Galacticos’, the most expensive team on the planet, and the homegrown talent of Barca’s ‘cantera’ who the most successful team on the planet last season when they won a unique treble.
Real were second best in terms of possession and Messi looked match fit as he thrust at the Real defence twisting Pepe inside out but Henry’s poor low shot ended the danger.
Barca were passing like they can do but Real were looking the more dangerous.
On 19 minutes Ronaldo should have scored after Kaka cut inside before sliding the ball accross goal but Ronaldo’s side-footed shot was saved brilliantly by Victor Valdes using his trailing foot.
It was then Puyol’s turn for a heroic block to deny Marcelo on 29 minutes.
Ibrahimovic came on for Henry minutes into the second half and had an immediate impact on his Clasico debut scoring the opener five minutes after coming on.
Dani Alves curled a delightful ball across the face of goal and Ibrahimovic arrived on cue guiding a left-footed volley past Casillas.
Barca looked in control but Busquets was then sent off for handball just after the hour mark and Pep Guardiola was furious with his midfielder.
Real threw on Benzema but Barca should have made it 2-0 only for Gerard Pique to head wide.
Down to ten men Barca still attacked although Real had chances with Ronaldo heading over and Puyol producing another great block to thwart Benzema.
Real substitute Raul skied from right in front of goal while Casillas pulled off a wonder save to deny Messi at the death.
Madrid’s Lass Diarra was sent off in the closing stages for hacking down Xavi after Barca pinged the ball about like they were in training.
Ibrahimovic’s game winning goal came on the same day he found his name among the ten finalists for the Ballon d’Or, or the European Footballer of the Year award, were announced.
The ten, shortlisted from an initial list of 30 nominees voted for by journalists, were revealed in alphabetical order on the France Football website.
In addition to Ibrahimovic , three other Barcelona players made the final ten – Spaniards Andres Iniesta and Xavi and Argentina’s Lionel Messi.
The winner will be unveiled in the next edition of France Football magazine on Tuesday, December 1 with Messi tipped as the favourite to succeed last year’s winner, Ronaldo of Portugal.
Real Madrid’s Ronaldo made this list again this year with former Manchester United team-mate Wayne Rooney.
Former Barcelona player Samuel Eto’o, who moved from the European champions to Inter Milan in the summer, is also among the finalists.
The ten finalists (in alphabetical order):
Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast, Chelsea)
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon, FC Barcelona then Inter Milan)
Steven Gerrard (England, Liverpool)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden, Inter Milan then FC Barcelona)
Andres Iniesta (Spain, FC Barcelona)
Kaka (Brazil, AC Milan then Real Madrid)
Lionel Messi (Argentina, FC Barcelona)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Manchester United then Real Madrid)
Wayne Rooney (England, Manchester United)
Xavi (Spain, FC Barcelona)