LOS ANGELES — In a battle between two of his former teams, Los Angeles Galaxy star Zlatan Ibrahimovic thinks Barcelona will get past Manchester United and into the Champions League semifinals.
“I think Barcelona will take it because they have the experience,” Ibrahimovic, 37, said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports. “But it’s two great clubs.”
Ibrahimovic was speaking just after Barca and Man United kicked off the first leg of their home-and-home, total goals series in England. The visitors went on to win 1-0 on a Luke Shaw own goal just 12 minutes in. The decisive match will be played next Tuesday in Spain.
Widely considered the best player of his generation after Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic also played for two other clubs still involved in the world’s top club competition: Italian titan Juve and Dutch power Ajax, who played to a 1-1 tie Wednesday in Amsterdam. Zlatan played for Manchester United for a season and half before joining the Galaxy last year. He was with Barcelona from 2009-11.
United reached the quarters after overcoming a two-goal first leg deficit against Paris Saint Germain — another of Ibrahimovic’s ex-teams — in the round of 16. The Red Devils sealed their upset victory with a late penalty kick. Was Ibrahimovic surprised by the result?
“Not surprised because in Champions League you never know what happens,” he said. “When you think something is over, it’s not over. I have a lot of experience with that. Not always the best team wins. It’s good for the fans.”
Ibrahimovic cited the unpredictable nature of the tournament as the reason why he didn’t want to pick the 2019 winner. Two of the continent’s most iconic and successful clubs, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, have already been eliminated.
“I think this season the champions can be a surprise because any team can win and the big teams are out — Madrid, Munich,” said Ibrahimovic, who won domestic titles in Italy, Spain, France and the Netherlands, but somehow never hoisted Europe’s most coveted trophy. “So let’s see who takes it and the end. I think the team that is more in shape will win it. It’s too difficult to predict this season.”
While the former Swedish international striker clearly keeps a close eye on what’s going on on his his home continent, he doesn’t watch Champions League matches the way he used to. The first half of the Barca-Man United match was displayed on a television just inside the Galaxy locker room as Ibrahimovic spoke, but he wasn’t planning on taking in the rest of the contest.
“I eat now and then I drive home. I have two boys, man. I have to take care of them,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not sitting in front of the TV studying the games like before.”
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