WFC 2012

WFC: Ibra leaves his mark on and off pitch in RFK debut

WASHINGTON – Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been soft-spoken, even modest, in his brief remarks to the media ahead of Saturday night’s international friendly at RFK Stadium between D.C. United and his new team, Paris Saint-Germain.

But when the curtain rose on his PSG debut, it took him just a hair more than two minutes to remind everyone of the outrageous skill that has made him one of the world’s most sought-after players.

Giving United defender Daniel Woolard a little shove to separate himself, then accelerating onto a flicked pass into space from PSG captain Jeremy Menez, “Ibra” advanced on Woolard, jinked left and calmly curled a low, left-footed drive around D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid to carve out a 1-0 lead before some fans had even reached their seats.

“He showed fantastic ability in that situation,” said PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti afterwards. “This is Ibrahimovic.”

That impudent finish was matched by a bit of similarly brash talk in the media mixed zone after the match, as the tall Swede claimed that this PSG squad has already surpassed AC Milan, the Italian giants who sold him and classy defender Thiago Silva to the ambitious Parisian club for a hefty fee earlier this summer.

“Is PSG better than Milan?” asked one reporter.

Yes, replied Ibrahimovic.

“Really?" the reporter continued. "Why?”

“Because they lost their two best players,” the Swede shot back.

Beyond the goal and the cutting observation of his former club, Ibra’s display in Saturday’s 1-1 draw also offered a glimpse of the many other facets he brings to a team. As the targetman at the head of PSG’s dynamic 4-3-3 system, he constantly made himself available to his midfield colleagues and linked play with a variety of flicks, dummies and intelligent runs that left the United back line scrambling to keep their shape and composure.

“He moved well with his teammates. He showed not the best condition, but a good condition. We have to be happy, because he was also motivated to play,” said Ancelotti. “Of course, the teammates search [for] him, because he has quality to give the ball, to pass the ball, to score.”

Still well short of his optimal fitness levels, Ibra was at times economical with his movement and lasted just 39 minutes before making way for teammate Guillaume Hoarau. Ibrahimovic nonetheless showed more than enough during that time to make it a special evening for the fans in attendance, who waited out a lightning-enforced, first-half weather delay that lasted nearly an hour.

“He is the star – you know, in just one action, you can prove yourself” said fellow striker Peguy Luyindula with a grin. “So there’s no more to say! He’s a big personality. Most of the younger players are in admiration of him, because he did a lot and he will do a lot for PSG.”

The 1-1 result in DC concludes PSG’s involvement in the World Football Challenge, having gained the same result against Chelsea FC in New York City last week. Ancelotti’s team now flies back to Paris for the final stage of its preseason, the countdown to its Ligue 1 season opener against FC Lorient on Aug. 11. Impressed by their experience in the States, Luyindula said he and his mates hope to make US summer visits an annual occasion.

“[United] was a good team, they played lovely football and we played lovely football, too,” said the French-Congolese veteran. “I think it was a hard game for both teams. We’re satisfied here today through next year, and next year again, because it’s a good thing to come here, to get good teams like Chelsea and D.C., I think. So we all [hope] we’re able to come next year again.”