Sweden better without Zlatan? LA Galaxy forward still not sure that's true

Zlatan Ibrahimovic at opening press conference - March 30, 2018

CARSON, Calif. -- Zlatan Ibrahimovic has departed for Russia and his duties as a pitchman during the tournament, but he still sounds irked that he won't be playing as Sweden returns to sport's biggest stage after 12 years.

The 36-year-old striker retired from international play following Euro 2016, but he hinted several times that he'd like a greater role at the World Cup beyond brand ambassador, noting that “A World Cup without me wouldn’t be a World Cup” when he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show nearly two months ago.

“It's the biggest party in football, playing in the World Cup,” Ibrahimovic said before he departed after the LA Galaxy's3-0 win Saturday night over Real Salt Lake. “All the best players are there. Zlatan is not there, should have been there, but is not there.”

The Swedish federation announced in late April that Sweden's all-time scoring leader -- with 62 goals in 116 caps -- was not a candidate for Janne Andersson's 23-man roster after telling officials, sporting director Lars Richt said, that “he hasn't changed his mind regarding playing for the national team. It's still a no.”

Andersson has cribbed together a virtually starless side that's been praised for its “collective play,” and some Swedish media have proclaimed the team stronger than the sides that included Ibrahimovic.

“They're all talking like they have the collective game now, and they did so fantastic in [qualifying],” said Ibrahimovic, who played in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. “For me, obviously, the best should be in the World Cup. When you do something amazing, that is when you win the World Cup. And that is what I'm about. That's my mentality.

“But OK, we have different philosophy, different mentality. And they've found the collective now, the typical Swedish [understated style], what they call. And the media says they're better without me, so that's why I believe in them.”

Ibrahimovic said he'd not “heard a lot about the World Cup,” ostensibly because the buzz ahead of Thursday's opener is muted here after the US national team's failure to qualify, said he expects a “fantastic atmosphere,” that the Russian organizers “will handle it good,” and that fans, he included, “will enjoy the football, beautiful game, and I think the best team will win. Who that will be, I don't know.”

Sweden better without Zlatan? LA Galaxy forward still not sure that's true - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Svensson_0.jpg?jjn3oIaP3nHLuKf9DjJpwpyQctt74Vzl

Ibrahimovic will not feature for Sweden in Russia, but Seattle's Gustav Svensson will | USA Today Sports Images

He said he's rooting for Brazil, among the tournament favorites, and Sweden, which would consider reaching the quarterfinals a fine achievement.

Ibrahimovic's World Cup experiences were frustrating but rewarding. He was 20 when he went to Japan, where he came off the bench in Sweden's draw with Argentina in its group finale and round-of-16 loss to Senegal. Four years later in Germany he started three of the Swedes' four games -- a scoreless draw with Trinidad and Tobago, a 1-0 win over Paraguay and the 2-0 group-of-16 defeat to the hosts -- and missed the group finale against England and Galaxy captain Ashley Cole.

“In Japan, I was not so involved,” he said. “I had big will to play, very hungry, but I didn't get a lot of chances. I got a little time, but I felt I could get more, but that's the football. Not everybody can get what they want always. But it was fantastic. ... The whole atmosphere, on the way to the stadium, outside the stadium, the fantastic stadiums [with] 70,000, 80,000, 90,000 even [in attendance]. It's amazing.”

He wasn't fully fit when he played in Germany, “where I had bad moments with my [thigh] injury. “

“But every World Cup has its own memory,” he said. “So I'm very happy I was in a World Cup, I did two and experienced that, so that is for me something that lives forever.”

The Swedish media's swipes at Ibrahimovic clearly bother him, although he mostly joked about them during his post-training media session last week.

“If you win 33 collective trophies [in European club soccer] and you sing against somebody that won those things, it means they know and he don't know,” he said. “But still he won 33 collective trophies. ... With the biggest teams in the world, where in the team you have bigger egos than the whole country [of Sweden] has. And still he won, collective. So I know how to win, trust me. And I do it good.”

The outspoken Ibrahimovic, whose parents immigrated to Sweden from Yugoslavia, said attacks on him “is the Swedish media mentality.”

“I don't have a typical Swedish name, I'm not a typical Swedish attitude, behavior and that,” he said. “And still I have the record in the national team [for goals], and still I play in Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan, PSG. Manchester United, Galaxy. So if you don't know how to do it 'collective,' why did you play in the biggest teams in the world? And you won?

“I should not put myself to their level and start talk, because I am up here. And like I said in the [news] conference when I came [to the Galaxy at the end of March], it is good to be up here. I don't want to go down. Let's go upwards. Let's improve the game here and help. That is what I'm here for. I'm not here to explain myself, because the facts speak for themselves.”