Tearful Zlatan makes emotional return to Sweden squad

Ibrahimovic said just being happy to play for the national team is not enough for him as he wants to play for titles and make his country proud.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic attends a press conference at Friends Arena in Stockholm, Monday March 22, 2021. Ibrahimovic has come out of international retirement at the age of 39 and is set to play for Sweden for the first time since the European Championship in 2016.   -  AP

AC Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic shed a few tears of pride as he returned to Sweden's national team after a four-year absence for its World Cup qualifiers and recounted how his son did not want him to leave home to join up with Janne Andersson's squad.

The 39-year-old, who quit international football after Euro 2016, choked up when he was asked what his boys, Maximilian, 14, and 12-year-old Vincent, thought of his decision to answer his country's call again and return to the world stage.

"Vincent cried when I left him," Ibra told a news conference before shedding a few tears himself as he felt the emotion of returning to the national team set-up in his first meeting with the media since his recall alongside coach Andersson.

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Sweden's all-time top scorer, with 62 goals in 116 games, said in a newspaper interview in late 2020 that he wanted to end his international exile and Andersson quickly flew to Milan to sort out the terms for the former captain's return.

"To play in the national team is the biggest thing you can do as a football player, and as I was following them (Sweden), inside me I was feeling I think I can help them, I think I can do something," Ibra told reporters.

The striker was deferential towards coach Andersson, who he has clashed with in the past through the media.

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"Obviously it's not up to me, what a player wants and what a coach wants, it has to go together," he said.

"I've got the opportunity now to play for my country and I do it with honour, but it's not only about that - it sounds like I'm only happy to be here ... but I'm here to get results, to bring results for the coach and my team mates and the whole country. As much as I talk here, if I don't bring results, here it means nothing," Ibrahimovic added.

Sweden hosts Georgia in its first 2022 World Cup qualifier on Thursday before visiting Kosovo three days later and rounding off with a friendly against Estonia.

As things stand today, I will be there: Zlatan on playing in Qatar 2022

Ibrahimovic’s initial aim is to play for Sweden at the continent-wide European Championship starting in June but looming further in the distance is the World Cup in Qatar that takes place in November and December 2022 — when he will be 41.

Ibrahimovic has played in two World Cup finals — in 2002 and ’06 — and never scored a goal. He wants to fill that gap on his bulging resume.

“That is something I will beat because I can’t have a zero,” Ibrahimovic said Monday, smiling. “Looking too far ahead is dangerous. I must think more about what happens the next day. … But If I feel the way I do today, I will be there.”

Sweden coach Andersson said he envisaged the captaincy one day returning to Ibrahimovic, but not immediately.

“Of course Zlatan has the most experience but he has no experience with our team,” Andersson said. “Eventually he will be able to be captain of this team. But right now I don’t see it in this group.”

(With inputs from AP)