Zlatan Ibrahimovic - LA Galaxy - celebrates his goal vs. the Chicago Fire
USA Today Sports

Zlatan insists he's going to World Cup, albeit probably not as a player

CARSON, Calif. – Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he's going to the World Cup. Sweden's soccer federation says he isn't. Both, apparently, are correct.

The Swedish superstar greeted Thursday's proclamation from Svenska Fotbollforbundet by confirming that he's still headed to Russia for this summer's tournament, but that doesn't mean he's going to play.

“I haven't read the [Swedish] papers yet, because the time difference is too big for me, and I'll have to wait,” Ibrahimovic replied when asked following the LA Galaxy's StubHub Center training session about his federation's statement. “Like I said, I'm not part of the national team, and that has been since I stopped [nearly two years ago]. So there is no other issue there.

“But if I'm going to the World Cup? Yes, I'm going. That's what I've been saying all the time.”

OK. How?

“I'm flying,” he said. “I've got a plane, and I'm flying.”

Ibrahimovic played for Sweden in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and in four European Championships, retiring from international play following Euro 2016 with 116 caps and Swedish-record 62 goals. He's said since arriving in Southern California at the end of March that he will be in Russia but had offered no other specifics.

The federation got specific on Thursday.

“Zlatan Ibrahimovic has previously said no to playing for the national team, and he hasn't changed his mind,” sporting director Lars Richt said in a statement. “I talked to Zlatan on Tuesday. He told me he hasn't changed his mind regarding playing for the national team. It's still a no.

"Zlatan Ibrahimovic is therefore, for the same reason as previous national team gatherings, not a candidate for the World Cup squad that coach Janne Andersson will present on May 15.”

Ibrahimovic, 36, likely will attend as part of his duties for his commercial sponsors, and MLS's break in mid-June for the group stage will afford him the ability to do so without missing a Galaxy match. LA play their final game before the World Cup kicks off on June 9 against Real Salt Lake at StubHub. The club returns to action June 30 against San Jose at Stanford University.

The tournament begins June 14, and Sweden have Group F matches June 18 against South Korea in Nizhny Novgorod, June 23 against Germany in Sochi, and June 27 against Mexico in Yekaterinburg.

Ibrahimovic was asked how many Galaxy matches he figured to miss while in Russia.

“None. The schedule is,” he started, then took a different tack. “I cannot tell you that. That is between me and the Galaxy, come on. I'm not giving the opponent this, how you say, this advantage, not knowing if I play or not. This is secret. This is tactical.”

Ibrahimovic said he stepped aside from the Swedish national team after Euro 2016 “because it was time to stop. Because I feel somebody else should fill up the gap and do the work, because I have done my work.”

He says he won't do any television commentary in Russia – “I don't do those things, because I feel when ex-players does those things, they need attention, [and] I don't need [attention]” – and that his absence should not provide Mexico confidence heading into the group finale.

“I think Sweden is the favorite to win the World Cup,” he teased, “because they're better without Zlatan.”