Henrik Larsson insists Ibrahimovic’s absence can benefit Sweden

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Henrik Larsson is hoping Sweden will go into the World Cup under the radar given 
Zlatan Ibrahimovic will not be involved in Russia.

Ibrahimovic retired from international football after Euro 2016 but Sweden’s record goalscorer appeared to be tempted to return after qualification for this summer’s finals had been achieved.

An international recall for Zlatan Ibrahimovic never came. Picture: AP

An international recall for Zlatan Ibrahimovic never came. Picture: AP

Now at LA Galaxy, the 36-year-old will not add to his 116 international appearances in Russia after speculation over a sensational recall failed to materialise.

Larsson, another talismanic
former Sweden international, believes that Ibrahimovic’s absence could help the Swedes provide a few shocks when their Group F fixtures start with a clash against South Korea next Monday.

Asked if not having the former Manchester United forward in the squad alleviates pressure on the players, Larsson said: “I hope now there are a few teams who underestimate Sweden.

“The South Korea game is not going to be easy and it is important they do not lose because they have a tough game against Germany after that. Then I think it is going to be decided in the Mexico game.

“He is the best player we ever had from Sweden so it is not strange that those questions [about a recall] came up. But I think it is good now for the group that they can focus on the team and the squad.”

Ibrahimovic suffered a serious knee injury towards the end of the 2016-17 season and, despite signing a new deal at Old Trafford, never won back his place in Jose Mourinho’s side. He has since moved to Major League Soccer and hit a brace as the Galaxy beat Real Salt Lake over the weekend – but even a move across the pond did not stop a clamour for Ibrahimovic to be involved at the World Cup.

“You guys are still talking about him even though he is not there,” said Larsson.

“A fit Zlatan, the way he was before his injury, I think any coach in the world would bring him. But he is not that. There is no point talking about that. It is about the players who are there.

“The team is going to be different in the sense that everybody has to move. The opponent knew in the past that when the ball went up front it was going to him. Now they are not sure. Is it coming short into the feet of either Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg, who are going to be the two strikers, or are they going long?”

One player who did make Sweden’s 23-man squad is Ibrahimovic’s former United team-mate Victor Lindelof.

The 23-year-old joined from Benfica last summer but had an inconsistent first season in England. However, he has been backed by Larsson to prove he is good enough to cut it in the Premier League.

“I would not say he has been struggling,” added Celtic legend Larsson.

“Obviously there have been some games that have not been the best but he has not been playing much either.

“You have to give the boy a 
little bit more time. He is a very good central defender. The way he reads the game, the way he passes the ball and the speed he has. Then it is just a question of getting used to the physicality you have in the Premier League. Next 
season, he is a clever player, so he is going to adapt.”