Durmaz: Everyone feared the worst without Zlatan

Jimmy Durmaz has expressed his surprise that Sweden, despite being without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, have made such a positive start to 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifying. The striker voted the second-greatest Swedish sportsperson in history, behind tennis legend Bjorn Borg, retired from international football following UEFA EURO 2016, having scored a record 62 goals in 116 caps. Sweden have, thereafter, won two and drawn one of their three Group A fixtures, and sit level on points with leaders France, whom they battle in Paris on Friday.

“I’ll be honest: I didn’t think we’d have seven points after three matches,” Durmaz told L'Equipe. “And that view wasn’t just mine. Everyone feared the worst for us without Zlatan, said we wouldn’t win a match.

“Take the French national team. They have great individuals, but are also superb collectively. If you think back to the problems they had six years ago, they perhaps had even better players but didn’t play as a team.

“We need a mix. Zlatan embodied that. He had a deep sense of teamwork. For me it’s quite similar. I’m good one against one, but I’m also a team player – that is why I’m in the national team. I can give you ten examples of players who are better on the ball than me, but they are not in the national team because they don’t have the team mentality.”

Cheeky photo Durmaz, who has won 37 caps, accepts Ibrahimovic’s decision to step down from the international stage. The 27-year-old Toulouse winger admitted he could not, nevertheless, resist sending his friend a photo message while on Sweden duty.

“If he wants to return to the national team, it will come from him,"Durmaz said. “I respect his decision and in a way I understand it. He wants to do things his way. He always told us that he wanted to stop at his best.

"He retired from international football at the top. I'm certain it will be the same for him with his club career.

"During a meeting with the national team, I sent him a photo of the room where we usually have our meals with the message 'Come back.' It wasn't a request like, 'Come on, please, you absolutely have to help us.' I asked him that as a friend, as an international player. By leaving, of course he left a big void – it couldn’t have been any other way.”

Sweden have participated in 11 World Cups, but missed out on the last two. They finished runners-up to Brazil on home soil in 1958, and third in 1950 and 1994. The Scandinavians finished the latter tournament as its highest-scoring team, with the late Klas Ingesson, Tomas Brolin, Martin Dahlin and Kennet Andersson starring in the USA.