NICE, France (AP) — Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ending his international career after the European Championship, meaning he could represent Sweden for the last time on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old striker said Tuesday ahead of Sweden’s final Group E game against Belgium that it would be his last appearance for his country if the team gets eliminated.
“The last game for Sweden in Euro will be my last game with Sweden, so I hope it will not be tomorrow,” he said. “Let’s hope it goes as long as possible.”
Even if Sweden loses and fails to qualify for the knockout stages, Ibrahimovic said he would not be disappointed with such an end to his 15-year international career.
“To finish on a disappointment, never, because I’m very proud to be captain of Sweden and what I achieved. So I want to take this moment and thank all the supporters, because they make it possible for me to achieve what I have achieved,” he said. “For me disappointment doesn’t exist, only proudness and grateful and very thankful.”
He added that he “will not participate in the Olympics” in Rio de Janeiro. He had been named in a provisional Swedish squad.
Ibrahimovic is Sweden’s record scorer with 62 goals and can become its joint sixth most-capped player with 116 appearances on Wednesday. Sweden, which has one point after its opening 1-1 draw against Ireland, still has a chance of qualifying for the round of 16 even though it has yet to register a single shot on target. Its only goal at Euro 2016 was an own goal. The Swedes almost certainly need a win against Belgium to qualify.
Looking ahead to the match, Ibrahimovic said: “We need to play a bit more as a team, need to be better.”
“There’s a lot of pressure on us but we’re still in there, we’ve managed to stay in there and we’ll do everything we can to continue in the tournament,” he said. “I feel good, I really feel 100 percent. Thus far I haven’t really been able to play at my best level.”
Sweden coach Erik Hamren highlighted Ibrahimovic’s contribution to the team and to Swedish soccer in general.
“Our greatest star going is a big loss,” Hamren said. “We have one international player that’s really at the same level as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and that’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.”
Hamren added that Ibrahimovic had discussed retirement with him in “January or February” but that Ibrahimovic only confirmed it Tuesday.
“I think Sweden do have a bright future in football, but of course if we lose Zlatan Ibrahimovic that will be a huge loss,” Hamren said. “As a goal scorer of course but also as an individual he has really helped Swedish football.”
Ibrahimovic can expect little sympathy from Belgium, at least not on the field.
“Hopefully it will be his last game tomorrow for Sweden,” said Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen, who was a youth player for Ajax during Ibrahimovic’s time there. “Lots of respect for his career, but I’m very selfish tomorrow.”