Nice (France), June 23 (IANS) Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the world’s top strikers and all-time highest goal scorer for his country, bid farewell to international football after Sweden lost 1-0 to Belgium, finishing bottom of Group E at the Euro 2016 football tournament.
The 34-year-old was the centre of attention during the match on Wednesday since he announced his intention to retire from international football after the tournament, reports Xinhua.
If Sweden had managed to beat Belgium, Ibrahimovic would have continued to play in the knockout stage.
“I’m just a boy from a small little part of Malmo and I got to represent my country. I was able to captain my country,” Ibrahimovic said after the game.
“I’m proud of what I have achieved and I will have many beautiful memories of my Sweden career,” he added.
Sweden coach Erik Hamren said: “I’m very disappointed. We were talking before the game about the honour of representing Sweden and of being here, but I couldn’t have asked for much more from my players. I’m proud of them even though we lost.
“I hoped Zlatan would have had a better finish. The same goes for Isaksson and Kallstrom, who have performed well for a long time and are also ending their Sweden careers.
“Unearthing a new Zlatan? No, he is special, he is unique. I don’t think that in a small country like Sweden you will find another player like him.”
In the game against Belgium, Ibrahimovic played all out but did not enjoy too much luck. He made at least five attempts but they were blocked or went just wide.
In the first half, he had a couple of half chances which were not enough to test Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois.
In the 75th minute, Ibrahimovic fired a low free-kick 25 yards out from a central position but Courtois dived to parry the ball clear.
Belgium playmaker Eden Hazard, the man of the match, said: “Zlatan has done a lot of important things in his career and would have wanted to go further here. Our objective was to qualify, but unfortunately, he is now eliminated.
“He will remain a great champion and still has a lot to offer at club level.”
As the all-time scorer of Sweden, Ibrahimovic has collected 62 goals in 116 appearances. He scored two goals at each of the previous three EUROs.
His magic twist dink in the game against Italy in Euro 2004 impressed fans all over the world.
With his playing style and acrobatic finishing compared to Dutch legend Marco van Basten, Ibrahimovic is widely regarded as one of the best footballers of his generation.
His spectacular bicycle kick for Sweden against England won the 2013 FIFA Puskas Award for Goal of the Year.
In December 2013, Ibrahimovic was ranked by the Guardian newspaper of England as the third-best player in the world, behind only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
In December 2014, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter named Ibrahimovic the second greatest Swedish sportsperson of all time, after tennis player Bjorn Borg.
Ibrahimovic began his career at Swedish club Malmo in the late 1990s before being signed by Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam, where he made a name for himself.
He has also played for Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.
A prolific striker, Ibrahimovic scored 18 goals for Malmo, 48 for Ajax, 26 for Juventus, 66 for Inter Milan, 22 for Barcelona, 56 for AC Milan and 156 for Paris Saint-Germain.
He is the only player to have won 13 championships in four top leagues (Eredivisie, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1).
He is also the only player to score in the UEFA Champions League with six different teams — Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.
His goals were crucial in Sweden’s qualification campaign for the Euro 2016 finals. However, in 2016, Ibrahimovic did not score a single goal for Sweden, the longest barren run in his career.