Ibrahimovic keeps soldiering on

The Swede scored his hundredth goal in the colours of Serie A clubs last Wednesday night during AC Milan's win against Palermo.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic  scored a vital goal against Palermo on Wednesday night.
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic has just become an Italian centurion. He scored his hundredth goal in the colours of Serie A clubs last Wednesday night during AC Milan's win against Palermo.

It was an important goal, too, the second in a 3-1 victory that would leverage his team to the top of the table. Milan will have noted, when they signed Ibrahimovic in August, that the top of the table is where he usually ends up.

In his two seasons with Juventus, the Swede finished each campaign collecting a champion's medal - Juve's honour was later rescinded because of the calciopoli scandal - and his three year stint with Inter Milan also delivered a trio of scudetti.

But Ibrahimovic is also the sort of centurion who, if he were a cricketer, would regularly have heard it muttered that he is a 'flat-track bully', a player at his most visible in domestic football, most prolific when the opposition are middle or lower-ranking sides.

Ibrahimovic may have won league titles in Holland, where he played for Ajax, in Italy and in Spain, where he spent last season with Barcelona, but he has not won the Champions League.

That, he confesses, is a long-term aim. It motivated his move from Inter to Barcelona when Barcelona were the reigning European club champions.

It hurt him when Barca lost that crown and it went instead to Inter, the club he had left because he detected they were less capable of making that step.

So it hardly needs restating that tomorrow's Milan derby has a special weight for Ibrahimovic.

There is a brittleness about his club's position at the head of the table, and a win for Inter, who sit fourth, would put the neighbours neck and neck on 23 points.

Milan have lost already this season to Juventus and to Real Madrid, the most prestigious opponents they have played so far.

Although Ibrahimovic has supplied to Italian audiences ample reminders of his high class - he has scored five goals in 10 league outings and directly set up four - Milan still too often look a side who are ageing.

Also, the head coach, Massimiliano Allegri, has been asked to create a unit of new and disparate individuals at quite short notice: Ibrahimovic and Robinho both joined at the very tail-end of the last transfer window.

Nor, as Allegri knew very well, is the tall centre-forward the easiest man to accommodate.

Ibrahimovic left Barcelona, who were prepared to take a financial loss of almost €40 million (Dh202m) after only 12 months with him on the staff there, because he fell out with the coach there, Pep Guardiola.

The player sneered at Guardiola's inability "to deal with stars". Some of the same edgy rancour seemed to accompany the Swede to Milan.

He had been there barely a fortnight when he launched, on live television, a prickly attack on Arrigo Sacchi, the former Milan coach and now media pundit. Sacchi has status among Milan fans, so Ibrahimovic won few friends among his new constituents for his remarks. Nor was his kick at a junior Milan player, Rodney Strasser, designed to win him friends.

The gesture - Ibrahimovic is good at taekwondo - may have been intended as no more than playground rough-and-tumble but it was thought odd by some colleagues. And his scuffle with Oguchi Onyewu, Milan's US defender, after Onyewu took umbrage about the aggression of an Ibrahimovic tackle during practice went so far that the training session had to be abandoned.

Pugnacity has always been a part of Ibrahimovic's game. Allegri wants it fostered and well used.

"We need a bit more malice sometimes," the coach said last week. The sight of a vulnerable Inter should stir it readily enough. The defending champions are not only trailing Milan but have a raft of injuries. The absence of Walter Samuel from the axis of the defence in particular should please Ibrahimovic, the central figure in tonight's showpiece.



Fiorentina v Cesena 8pm

Juventus v Roma 11.45pm


Lazio v Napoli 2.30pm

Bari v Parma 5pm

Bologna v Brescia 5pm

Cagliari v Genoa 5pm

Palermo v Catania 5pm

Sampdoria v Chievo 5pm

Udinese v Lecce 5pm

Inter Milan v AC Milan 10.45pm

Licka licks his wounds

Mario Licka, the Brest midfielder, has called on his team-mates to forget last week’s heavy defeat and prove they are worthy of their position at the top of the standings when they take on Sochaux today.

The team were unbeaten in eight matches before losing 3-1 to Lille. Despite that result, they remain at the top of the Ligue 1 table, one point clear of Rennes. “It was inevitable our run was going to end one day,” Licka said. “We played badly, they played very well and we have to accept the defeat. Now we face Sochaux and will see if the loss causes us problems or not.”

Brest will play today without striker Larsen Toure, who is nursing a hamstring injury. Also today, Nancy face struggling Bordeaux, who sit mid-table with four wins, four draws and four defeats – and a goal difference of zero. Bordeaux are winless in their last three games.

Bundesliga boosted

Bayern Munich’s current struggles benefit the Bundesliga, the league’s chief executive said. Bayern, who have won nine of the last 14 Bundesliga titles, are in ninth place, 12 points behind first-place Borussia Dortmund going into tomorrow’s game with Nuremberg. “It’s good for the fans. It’s good for the sponsors,” Christian Seifert said. “At the end, I think it’s good for Bayern Munich because they are living in a real, challenging day-by-day-environment.

“A lot of the so-called top leagues in Europe are in fact very boring leagues. They have maybe one or two real good clubs, but at the end they’re maybe a little bit boring.”

Seifert said the Bundesliga has benefited from a decade of financial regulations. He endorsed the financial fair play rules enacted by the Union of European Football Associations, which say teams should keep player compensation below 50 per cent of revenue.

Busquets steps in

Sergio Busquets, the Barcelona midfielder, is ready to fill in at the back in the absence of Gerard Pique and Gabi Milito against Villarreal today. Pique is suspended following his red card against Getafe last weekend, and Milito was injured in a 5-1 win over Ceuta in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.

Pep Guardiola, the Barca coach, may decide to switch Eric Abidal, the full-back, to a central position, but Busquets is ready to drop back if needed. “If I had to play as a central defender, I would,” he said. “I would have things to improve on, because it’s not my natural position, but I could play as a centre-back.”

Barcelona face Real Madrid later this month, but Busquets says the Catalans are focused solely on Villarreal. “There are some very important matches before we play Madrid,” he said. “For us, the most important game is [Villarreal].”

PSV target top spot

PSV Eindhoven will be looking for their sixth home win of the season – and possibly first place in the league – when they face Excelsior today. PSV is one point behind Eredivisie leaders FC Twente, who face a difficult trip to NAC Breda. NAC are in 11th place, but they have enjoyed success in their home stadium, where they have claimed five victories and suffered just one defeat.

Also today, Roda, in fifth, look to close the gap on fourth-placed Groningen when they host Utrecht, who have lost five of their seven away games.

Ajax also face a difficult game when they travel to face AZ Alkmaar tomorrow. They are three points behind PSV but the Amsterdam side have a significantly inferior goal difference although they have yet to be beaten when playing away from home.
Groningen will be aiming to translate their near-perfect home form into success on the road when they visit Heracles.