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The prodigal son of Swedish football, Zlatan Ibrahimović returns to international duty against Scotland on Wednesday amid high hopes he can spearhead an exciting new era under Erik Hamrén.
This is a view endorsed by former Sweden striker Marcus Allbäck, now working as Hamrén's assistant. Ibrahimović has not played for Sweden since their FIFA World Cup qualifying hopes ended last October but confirmed his return to the fold last month and Allbäck underlined his importance to the cause by suggesting the FC Barcelona forward had the potential to be for Sweden what Zinédine Zidane was for France.
"If you asked me my favourite player of all time I would say Zidane and one of the reasons is because he made the rest of the players really good," Allback told UEFA.com. "That's what we want Zlatan to do in the Swedish national team. We want him to lift everyone else by 10 or 20% because he's that big; he's that important; he's that skilful."
Allbäck's confidence stems from his belief that Ibrahimović – who has 22 goals from 62 caps – will prosper under the more positive approach of Hamrén, who has taken the reins on a full-time basis after initially replacing the long-serving Lars Lagerbäck last November while still coaching Norway's Rosenborg BK.
Allback said: "He's our biggest star by far and it's just a massive boost for Sweden to have him back. He and our national coach, Erik Hamrén, had a big talk, and Mr Hamrén said, 'This is what I want from you, are you willing to give us that? If you give us your best, we'll love you even more'. And he's prepared to do that."
Whereas Lagerbäck was an advocate of 4-4-2, Hamrén favours a 4-2-3-1 system that Allbäck believes will "suit him [Ibrahimović] perfectly". It is a view echoed by midfielder Anders Svensson. Svensson, who wore the captain's armband in Ibrahimović's absence, explained: "I think now we have changed a little bit how we play in Sweden, with a bit more confidence on the ball, and that's the way Zlatan has played and been very successful at club level.
"I think we haven't seen his full potential in the Swedish national team yet, and I think the way we play now is going to suit him much more," added Svensson, who hopes Sweden, as a consequence, will see "the real Zlatan" on a consistent basis. He said: "
Give us a chance to see the real Zlatan, not just in one or two or three games, but in a lot of games. When you have a player of his standard, it's crucial for Sweden's success."
After facing Scotland, Sweden open their UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying campaign with September home games against Hungary and San Marino. Allbäck is looking ahead with optimism but paused to reflect on the success of Lagerbäck, under whom he played in five successive major tournaments between 2000 and 2008.
He praised his former coach for the "stability" he brought, explaining he had made Sweden difficult to beat with his excellent organisational skills. "If we lost, we lost 1-0 or 2-1. The problem we had was that we didn't score many goals." The new regime's aim is to "be better in the last third" – hence the importance of Ibrahimović's return.
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