Belfast Telegraph

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says goodbye as Swedes crash out

Belgium 1 Sweden 0

By Staff Reporter

There is now just one Swede left at this tournament and Lars Lagerback will be here in Nice on Monday overseeing an Iceland side that has shown far more Viking values than the land of his birth.

The only way Sweden were going to qualify for knockout stages of the European Championship was if Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has never quite fulfilled his extraordinary talents on the international stage, chose to scatter some last stardust on the Riviera.

However, Sweden's weakness can be judged from the fact that their only shots on target in Euro 2016 came in this, their final match of the tournament. The closest they came to a breakthrough was when Kevin de Bruyne cleared off the line.

There was a goal in Nice that was worthy of Ibrahimovic's ability, struck powerfully from the edge of the area, leaving the keeper helpless but it came from Radja Nainggolan and ensured that Belgium progressed fairly smoothly to the business phase of the competition.

Zlatan, who had a goal disallowed and a couple more opportunities, will return home, probably to complete the business of signing for Manchester United.

Sweden were facing a side that had very much more than just the one option. There was Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Yannick Carrasco to menace the Swedish back four but mostly there was De Bruyne.

Manchester City have contributed two footballers who cost around £50m to this tournament and while Raheem Sterling will probably watch England's game against Iceland in Nice from the bench, De Bruyne was at the heart of everything.

In a first half that Belgium had much the better of, his crosses might have produced at least a couple of goals had Lukaku timed his run better or had the right-back, Thomas Meunier, got a better connection with his header. Eighteen minutes from the end Sweden keeper Andreas Isaksson kept his nerve to deny Lukaku when the Everton striker was sprinting through on goal.

Zlatan cracked a shot past Thibaut Courtois' post and a free-kick with time running out that the Chelsea keeper pushed away.

Ibrahimovic may have changed since his debut but so have Sweden and not for the better. He came into a Sweden side that had players of the calibre of Stefan Schwarz, and Henrik Larsson. Now there was just him left and nobody believed it would be enough.

Belfast Telegraph