POST TIME: 7 July, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Forsberg brushes off Ibra comparisons

Forsberg brushes off  Ibra comparisons

Emil Forsberg

AFP,  SAINT PETERSBURG: Sweden face England on Saturday for a place in the World Cup semi-finals with Emil Forsberg having succeeded Zlatan Ibrahimovic as their talisman -- just don't tell him that.

Forsberg set up Saturday's quarter-final against the Three Lions by scoring the only goal, thanks to a deflection, against Switzerland.

After the last-16 win in St Petersburg, the Leipzig striker happily answered questions -- until he was asked why Sweden are more successful without the larger-than-life Ibrahimovic, who retired from international duty in 2016.

“You can talk about it, I won't do that”, he answered tersely when asked if Sweden's run to the last eight at the World Cup in Russia is linked to Ibrahimovic's absence.

The facts, however, cannot be denied.

With "Ibrakadabra” in the team, Sweden bowed out of the World Cup finals twice at the last-16 stage, against Senegal in 2002 and then Germany in 2006.

A bleak period followed for both Sweden and Ibrahimovic as they failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, then lost a playoff against Portugal and missed the 2014 finals.

Ibrahimovic, now 36 and playing for Los Angeles Galaxy, retired from he national team after Euro 2016 when Sweden finished last in their group. He scored a remarkable 62 goals in 116 appearances.

While Ibrahimovic embraced his role as Sweden's star, Forsberg shuns the limelight, although he is just as important to the team.

“I have the feeling that after Zlatan's retirement, the pressure or expectation grew,” Forsberg said in an interview before the World Cup.

He said his new role sometimes means being tough on his teammates, "especially if you want success" -- he said he sometimes now has to "light a fire under the boys' arses".

Just as when Ibrahimovic was around, Sweden can be seen as 10 warriors and one artist -- but Forsberg lacks the ego and interprets his role differently.

The winger chases the glory of scoring goals with just as much determination as the ponytailed Ibrahimovic. However, Forsberg is equally committed to his defensive work, pressing as hard as any teammate when the opponent has the ball and putting in tackles -- not Ibra's forte.

Forsberg is often at the heart of Sweden's attack, because no other teammate has such playmaking or technical ability.

“He sets the pace,” said Sweden coach Janne Andersson.

Yet Forsberg's ambitions nearly fell at the first hurdle when, as a teenager, he was rejected at an elite training camp for being too small.

“I was crushed,” he recalls. “I thought, 'what am I supposed to do? Magically grow taller? If I can't even make this camp, how am I ever going to play for Sweden?'”