Updated at 11am
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has warned Sweden of the dangers of underestimating Malta when the two countries meet in a Euro 2020 qualifier at the Friends Arena in Solna on Friday (kick-off: 8.45pm).
Not many might know, but Ibrahimovic has a direct connection with Malta as he is one of the shareholders of betting company Bethard Group, located in our country.
In an exclusive interview with the Times of Malta, the legendary Swedish striker said that all the pressure would be on the Swedish national team as they search for their second win in their qualifying campaign.
Sweden are currently second in Group F on four points after they beat Romania in their opening match and then were held to a thrilling 3-3 draw against Norway. Malta, on the other hand, are just one point behind after defeating the Faroe Islands 2-1 before going down to former world champions Spain 2-0 last March.
“For Sweden, when you play a country like Malta it’s always dangerous to under estimate a game like this,” the Los Angeles Galaxy striker told the Times of Malta.
“People think that it’s an easy game but it’s never an easy game because you still have to win against them if you want to qualify for the European Championships.
“Malta have nothing to lose in this match while Sweden have everything to lose. So the pressure will be on the Swedish national team whose challenge is to go there, try to play well and succeed.”
'More goals would be a bonus'
Ibrahimovic, Sweden’s all-time scorer with 62 goals in 116 appearances, said that winning Friday’s qualifier against Malta is much more important for Sweden than scoring a lot of goals.
“When you play these kind of matches the most important is to bring home the three points,” Ibrahimovic said.
“If you have the chance to score more goals it’s a bonus, but the priority is to make sure you get the win for Sweden if they want to qualify for the European Championships.”
The Maltese national team do no have good memories of facing Ibrahimovic, as the former PSG and Manchester United striker produced one of his most prolific performances with the national team when he netted four goals in a 7-0 win at the National Stadium.
“I remember well that match in Malta,” Ibrahimovic said.
“I scored four goals in a big win for our country and that helped us in our qualification run to the 2006 World Cup.”
Ibrahimovic has been missing from the Swedish national team for almost three years now since his decision to retire from international football, and he is pleased with how his country continues to perform.
“Players do come and go but Sweden have always maintained their style of play,” he said.
“Sweden had a very good performance at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and they continue to do well in their style of play, which is to continue playing collectively and defend well.
“I’m sure that if they continue to work hard every match they will have a very good qualifying campaign.”
Excerpts from Zlatan Ibrahimovic's interview
"I’m not surprised (by their success this year). We had played against them in the Europa League final and they were good then. I feel sorry for them, they deserved to be in the final and I think it would have been a better game if they were there".
On promoting youth
"It worked for Ajax this year. But it took them 15 years. It’s not like it works every year".
On the best Ibrahimovic
"I was at my most complete when I joined Inter. That period, then Milan, I would say I was at my best".
"Italy is like my second home. I will never forget what it did for me and my football career. I played for the three biggest clubs there and was the top scorer in two".
On FC Barcelona
"He (Guardiola) didn’t like something. I don’t know what. But it’s his problem, not mine. If you are a man, you resolve your problems".
On PSG’s struggles in European football
"It takes many years to get the necessary experience in Europe. Chelsea is a good example. When Abrahamovic took over, he bought many players and had a big project but their performance in Europe was not what people expected".
On playing in England
"I had a fantastic time there. I played almost the entire season before I got injured, and I got three trophies there".
On Man Utd’s problems
"You have to bring in top players and keep it going. When I came there, they had had a couple of bad seasons. We came and won three trophies, but they didn’t keep going and other teams just got stronger and stronger".
It has to be a combination of experience and young players to succeed.
On playing in the MLS
"I’m having a good time. The league is developing. Things change from one season to the next – there is no team bigger than the other. It’s not at Europe’s level but it’s progressing. I didn’t come here because I’m Ibrahimovic. I came here because I want to win".
On life after football
"I have had options to be a manager, but I feel I can still play. Maybe in the future, you never know. Now I’m a partner with Bethard and my focus is on making them as successful as possible".
His advice to young Maltese players
"Enjoy, have fun when you play and don’t be afraid to fail. We have all failed. Be confident".