At the age of 39, Ibrahimovic is more than just goals at this stage of his career
Two starts. Three assists. Six digits. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's return to international football has been a resounding success for the Sweden national team, even though the AC Milan striker failed to register a World Cup qualifying win over Georgia or Kosovo.
At the age of 39, Ibrahimovic is more than just goals at this point in his career. He sees himself as the patron of an exciting crop of young raiders led by Alexander Issac.
Ibrahimovic said, "I told him, I don't need a goal, I'll help you."
Fearing that Ibrahimovic's return would affect the team's balance has so far proved unfounded, Sweden are ahead with a 3–0 win over Sweden in Kosovo on Thursday.
There are very rigorous tests to come for the Swords – especially at home in their next qualifier against Spain in September – but coach Janey Anderson is pleased with how the country's star player has been reestablished.
Anderson said, "I am very happy with him and his professionalism.
"He is impressive. He does not want us to talk about his age, but if we do, I can say that his professionalism is one of the reasons he is still at this stage.
"And it was fun that we could use it better in our game. It is fun that he was able to contribute. Ibrahimovic, who will be rested for a friendly match against Estonia on Wednesday in an effort to manage his workload, started in front for both qualifiers last week with 21-year-old Issac. Issac did more running – not only in wide attacking channels but in getting back into midfield for defense – leaving Ibrahimovic to stay in the forward zone and find areas to worry about his opponents.
Ibrahimovic's catch-up game inside the area was particularly impressive, using his height and close control to bring the attackers around him into play. It was clear that Anderson had a specific game plan.
This was the core of Victor Claasen's winner against Georgia, which came after Ibrahimovic brought down a long ball and returned it to the middle of the penalty box with his next touch. The opening goal against Kosovo was scored by Ludwig Augustinson with the somersault of Ibrahimovic.
A low, square pass to Issac saw the Real Sociedad striker enter the first half in the second attempt as well, while Ibrahimovic was off the field when Sebastian Larsen converted it to a 3–0 penalty.
"When we hit a long ball … Zlatan is fantastic in that part of the game," Anderson said.
"Neither he nor I care whether he scores or not. It feels so good to get him out of there. "Isaac, who seems to be establishing himself ahead of Marcus Berg, has flaws in terms of his inhumanity in front of goal and strength on the ball. But he has spoken of the impact Ibrahimovic, Sweden's record scorer and possibly its greatest player, has had on him in just a few days of training.
And this appears to be an important part of Ibrahimovic's role in Sweden's team joining the European Championship.
"I will put pressure on other players," he said.