After their former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently ended speculation that he might play at the World Cup in Russia, Sweden coach Janne Andersson named a squad short on househould names but big on team spirit on Tuesday.
There were no shocks as the 55-year-old coach, who took over after record goalscorer Ibrahimovic retired form the national team following a disappointing showing at Euro 2016, kept faith with the players who qualified for Russia.
In Ibrahimovic’s absence, Sweden dug deep to beat qualifying group winners France at home, before beating Italy in a thrilling playoff to book their spot at the finals.
“I think we showed in the qualification and the playoff that we had … the same squad, and I think we did it really well. So hopefully it’s a strength in that way,” Andersson said of his team’s lack of household names.
The 36-year-old Ibrahimovic, who has rediscovered his fitness after moving from Manchester United to Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy, had flirted with an international return.
However, team manager Lasse Richt, who is close to Ibrahimovic, said it was never a serious possibility.
“It’s more around different speculations when he was doing different brand things and so on. But he has never said, to me in any case and I have pretty close contact with him, that he was going to play (at the World Cup),” Richt told Reuters.
Ibrahimovic has made several high-profile commercial agreements in the run-up to the World Cup, and Richt says he does not expect a call from the striker looking for tickets to Sweden’s Group F games against South Korea, Germany and Mexico.
“I don’t think he needs my help to fix tickets – if he comes,” Richt said with a smile.