Zlatan Ibrahimovic is heading to Nice under pressure to perform.
One of soccer’s biggest personalities, the 34-year-old Sweden striker needs to step up against Belgium on Wednesday with his team almost certainly needing a win to progress at the European Championship.
To do that, the Swedes must score goals after failing to get a single shot on target in either of their two games so far.
“Zlatan is one of the greatest forwards I have ever met,” Sweden coach Erik Hamren said. “He’s a winner and if he’s disappointed, I think everybody can accept and understand that. We all are disappointed.”
Sweden’s opening 1-1 draw against Ireland was a major disappointment, and while the performance against Italy was better, the Swedes didn’t force a single save from goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
The level of individual talent in Belgium’s team is not in doubt, but its teamwork is. The opening 2-0 loss to Italy was partly redeemed when the Belgians beat Ireland 3-0 on Saturday with two goals from Romelu Lukaku.
Beating the Irish was the minimum, however, for a team with the weight of expectation that Belgium carries. After players such as Kevin de Bruyne and captain Eden Hazard failed to shine against Italy, a convincing win against Sweden would help ease fears that team has underachieved.
Qualification is almost a certainty if Belgium can avoid losing. A win guarantees second place in the group, while a draw could be enough unless Ireland beats Italy.
With Group E the last to be decided on Wednesday, Belgium will know by kickoff whether its current three points is enough to qualify and which margin of defeat could mean elimination.
One possible benefit for the Swedes is that Belgium defenders Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen will miss the next game if they get yellow cards. If they are wary of contact, that could open up space for Ibrahimovic.