Zlatan Ibrahimovic won't be going to the World Cup after all

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic played over a decade for the Sweden national team, but retired after Euro 2016. (Getty)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic played over a decade for the Sweden national team, but retired after Euro 2016. (Getty)

The Swedish national team finally put an end to Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s World Cup charade on Thursday. It ended months of speculation about whether Ibrahimovic would be coming out of international retirement for the 2018 tournament. The answer, despite Ibrahimovic’s recent hints, is no.

The Swedish FA released a statement Thursday saying that Ibrahimovic, who last represented his country at Euro 2016, will not be considered for its 2018 World Cup roster.

“Zlatan Ibrahimovic has previously said no to playing for the national team – and he hasn’t changed his mind,” the statement read. “‘I talked to Zlatan on Tuesday. He told me he hasn’t changed his mind regarding playing for the national team – it’s still a no,’ says [sporting director] Lars Richt.

“Zlatan Ibrahimovic is therefore, for the same reason as previous national team gatherings, not a candidate for the World Cup squad that coach Janne Andersson will present on May 15.”

This comes after Andersson told German magazine Kicker that, as far as he was concerned, Ibrahimovic was still retired:

“To put it plainly, if you retire from the national team, like Zlatan following Euro 2016 – and he was very clear when talked about it – the case is settled. If you’ve lost the drive to be with the national team for 40 to 50 days a year, and rather do nothing or spend time with your family, I respect that. I don’t believe in convincing anyone. I’d rather work with the 250,000 [players] who want to be part of it.”

“He can do it. But If he changes his opinion, contacts me and tells me, ‘Yes, I want to be part of it,’ then we’ll sit down and discuss what that would mean, how we play these days and so on. But that’s all speculation. I don’t know. But I also don’t think about it. I take the things as they come if they come. If you want to be part of it, you must call me. Easy as that.”

So why did Ibrahimovic recently tell Jimmy Kimmel that he would be going to the World Cup?

Because the 36-year-old recently signed a World Cup-related sponsorship deal with Visa. This was all a marketing ploy. Or at least the recent noise was. The idea of Ibrahimovic playing was a legitimate one. But despite the noise, wheels were never set in motion.

And anyway, Sweden tried and failed with Zlatan to qualify for the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. It tried without him – for the first time this century – to qualify for the 2018 edition, and succeeded, finishing ahead of the Netherlands in its UEFA group, then beating Italy in a playoff.

There’s even a thought that this Sweden side is better without Zlatan. That it is less reliant on him, more in tune as a unit, and therefore more likely to make some noise in Russia. We’ll find out soon enough if that is indeed the case.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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