Zlatan Ibrahimovic is larger than life as a player and a public figure. Known for his brash confidence and outrageous goals, the 36-year-old striker recently promised that he would be at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.
It turns out that he is a man of his word. He will be in the host country attending matches and experiencing the event close-up in partnership with Visa’s FOMO (“Fear Of Missing Out”) campaign.
As he gets ready to enjoy the biggest sports event on the planet, the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup™ veteran spoke to FIFA.com about his pick to win, some stars to watch and the unique spectacle that is the FIFA World Cup™.
FIFA.com: Zlatan, there has been a lot of speculation about you coming to the World Cup. Why are you making the point to go to Russia in partnership with Visa?
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: It was clear that I was not going to be in the national team playing, but like I said four years ago and I say it again now: the FIFA World Cup without me is not worth watching! I really mean that. But it is now possible that I will be present anyway, and I will enjoy the World Cup from close up. So as a partner with Visa, I am happy for that. We will be there, and we will take over.
What do you expect from Russia as the host country?
I think it will be amazing. It’s a huge country with a lot of people. It will be nice having a World Cup there. I think it will be amazing, just like every World Cup. It’s the biggest party in the world, so wherever it is I just want to be there, see it live or see it on TV and enjoy. I would not miss it.
How are you feeling about being at the finals, which start on the 14th at the Luzhniki Stadium?
I am super excited to go with the Visa people to the stadium and watch some games, see the people and the atmosphere, see the surroundings. Visa and me will do it together, and I look forward to the big party. We have a lot of activities planned. I’m coming to dominate.
Who are your favourites to win the World Cup?
I pick the Visa team because we are the biggest favourite to win, and then I will give you other teams that have a possibility to win: I think Brazil, Spain, Germany, obviously Sweden. Argentina also, even if they don’t want to speak about themselves as favourites: they are. I am sorry the US is not in the World Cup because that’s my new country where I live, and I would support them also.
How realistic are Sweden’s hopes?
They beat some big nations to reach the World Cup, so let’s see. Everything is exciting and new. You never know what will happen. It’s all about the moment. Whoever is best in the moment is the one that will do well.
Will you be nervous at all watching Sweden on the pitch?
No no, never, no no. I mean, I’m excited, not nervous. I’m more hungry to get on the field and help Sweden win – this is how I think.
Are there any new stars you think will make an impact?
I think [Paul] Pogba for sure, who everybody knows is fast and skilful. [Kylian] Mbappe, an upcoming star who still has more to give to get to the top, but he will for sure arrive there…there are so many players who are exciting at the moment that for sure some other star that nobody has been talking about will dominate.
What about the biggest names?
Remember it’s not an individual game we are playing, but a team game. I think Neymar, after being injured and coming back, will have a lot of hunger to play and will lift his team and they will push for him. I think with Messi, the picture is normal: he is the best and the team follows him. Ronaldo, the same thing. Let’s see what happens. It’s a long season. Players have been playing for 10 or 11 months and now this is the final stage. Let’s see who is physically and mentally 100 per cent. Those things are very decisive. It doesn’t matter how skilful you are if you are not 100 per cent healthy.
Can you tell us something about your first World Cup memory as a fan?
I remember well when it was: in the USA in 1994 when Sweden came third, because it was a big thing at the time in Sweden of course.
Did that inspire you to become a player?
I knew at that time I would take over the world, and that I was not only a football player.
What was your favourite thing about playing in the World Cup in 2002 and 2006?
My favourite part was the fans, the atmosphere while playing the games. My shirt was yellow, and you see the same yellow in the stadium and you see the happiness and the big party going on. We are spoiled as Sweden with the support we have, so that was my favourite memory. And the games obviously, but the games are games even if the level is bigger – there is nothing new that you don’t see every day as a top player. It’s the atmosphere that is incredible.
And finally, why would you recommend to fans to watch the World Cup?
I would say to the fans: just have patience, I am coming. I will be there in Russia!