Martin O’Neill has admitted Zlatan Ibrahimovic is no longer “over-rated” as he prepares to send the Republic of Ireland into battle with Sweden’s superstar striker.
A decade ago O’Neill, in his role as a television pundit, described Ibrahimovic as “the most over-rated player on the planet”, a comment which was put to him at his press conference ahead of Ireland’s Group E opener against Sweden at the Stade de France this evening.
The 64-year-old said: “Well 10 years ago, that might have been the case. Lots of things can happen in that time. I remember myself feeling for a period of time that Henrik Larsson was over-rated. After about three and a half minutes, I changed my mind.
“He’s a top-class player. He’s one of the best in Europe, if not the world. He’s Sweden’s talisman and he will be hard to keep quiet during the course of the game.
“All world-class players, regardless of how well or how closely they are marked, are able to elude things during the course of the game, and he is one of those players.”
Ibrahimovic scored 11 times during Sweden’s qualification campaign and represents a major threat to Ireland’s hopes of getting off to a winning start in Saint Denis, and his ability and track record have certainly impressed skipper Robbie Keane, whose 67 international goals tell their own story.
Asked if he liked the 34-year-old, Keane said: “Yes, of course - how could you not? He’s a top, top player, as the gaffer referred to. He’s been doing it for a long, long time and he seems to be getting better and better.
“He scores goals no matter where he’s been, he’s a top player.”