Why we can expect a Zlatan masterclass

Getty Images

WATCH Sweden's tournament opener against Republic of Ireland LIVE on beIN SPORTS

Now it’s time for some trivia.

Name five Sweden players who are not Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

With all due respect to the 22 other members of the UEFA EURO squad, it’s hard to think of Sweden without immediately reflecting on the highlight reel performances of its charismatic captain and striker.

For his part, Ibrahimovic could never be accused of reserving his best football for his club team. A stunning 62 international goals from 113 matches puts paid to the criticisms that have dogged his more highly-paid contemporaries - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - on the international stage.

Put simply, the 34 year-old adds a dash of X-factor to Sweden that makes it compulsory viewing. That's X-factor as in: kung-fu kick goals, blistering free kicks, audacious back-heels and impossible volleys, as opposed to a panel of washed up b-grade artists judging a talent show.  

Just as he's proven in a decorated, trophy-drenched club career, the big man doesn’t shirk responsibility on the biggest stage, often reaching into his vast bag of tricks to wrest his team from the jaws of defeat or a draw with a piece of individual brilliance. His four-goal exhibition against England in 2012 is a case in point.

But it’s at the European Championships where Ibrahimovic has arguably saved his best, punctuating each of the last three tournaments with a wonder-goal that has us salivating in anticipation of what he may be ready to dish up in France.

Against Italy in 2004, Zlatan bamboozled Gianluigi Buffon with an audacious back-heel that signed his membership to one of football’s most exclusive clubs: players who have embarrassed the Italy ‘keeper.

Four years later, against defending champion Greece, Zlatan was at it again. 

The 34 year-old made it a trio of tournament-defining goals in 2012, with this volleyed stunner against France.

Zlatan's mercurial displays on the continent have consolidated his reputation as one of the world's best strikers and amid speculation he is about to sign with Manchester United, expect him to be in rare form for Sweden this year, at arguably his last Championships. 

If his recent international form is any sort of guide, he could be ready to inflict some serious pain on Sweden's Group E rivals Belgium, Italy and Republic of Ireland.