Zlatan Ibrahimovic toasted his first Sweden appearance in five years and insisted he still has the “ninja” moves to make a difference at 39.
The AC Milan striker quit international duty after Euro 2016 but has now made a surprise return to the Sweden ranks – and required just 35 minutes to claim an assist in a 1-0 win over Georgia.
Ibrahimovic also became the oldest player to represent Sweden in Thursday’s World Cup Qualifier, breaking the
record of 38 years and 59 days held by former goalkeeper Thomas Ravelli.
But he warned opponents to expect plenty more eye-catching moments.
There is nothing that I plan to do or think to do before a game; it’s just impulsive stuff. I can still do those movements, that ninja stuff. I still have it in me, even if I’m 39.
“The feeling was amazing. I just missed the Swedish crowd, the fans, because the last time I played here was a full stadium and the atmosphere is different when it’s full but the rest was amazing.
Ibrahimovic broke down in tears earlier in the week when weighing up his decision to come out of international retirement.
But having played in two World Cup finals – in 2002 and 2006 – and not scored a goal, he admitted he has unfinished business.
“I have one thing with World Cups and it’s that I have never scored a goal in the World Cup finals, so that’s something I have to beat,” he said.
“I can’t have that on zero.”
Ibrahimovic’s likely strike partner, Marcus Berg, welcomed his team-mate’s return and believes his winning mentality will inspire younger members of the squad at this summer’s European Championship as well as beyond.
“Yeah, with his words, he can push players and but for me, it’s just to look at him, how we behave,” Berg – 34 himself – said.
“He wants to win, for any price. He’s a hard worker on and off the pitch and he’s inspiring the younger players, I think.
“I think he’s more a box player nowadays. He’s always been fantastic there, but of course, with his physics (physical condition), it’s not easy to run that much for the 90 minutes.
“So I think his quality in the box is something that we have to help him to play on his qualities, to serve him a lot of balls in the box. I think there he can win the games for us.”
Viktor Claesson was the matchwinner as Sweden beat Georgia 1-0 on his return to international football in Group B.
The visitors threatened early on the break but the Swedes gradually grew into the game as their attacking quarter of Ibrahimovic, Claesson, Alexander Isak and Dejan Kulusevski took over.
Sweden went ahead 10 minutes before the break when Ibrahimovic chested down a ball into the box and volleyed it back at a tight angle for Claesson to take a touch and bundle home.
With the Swedes often careless in possession, Georgia fashioned a few decent chances and the best of them fell to substitute Levan Shengelia in the 82nd minute, but Kristoffer Nordfeldt made a superb save to keep his clean sheet intact.