Sweden coach wants Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Rio 2016 Olympic football tournament
In aftermath of draw, Germany coach confirms he will not call up ‘over-age’ players and Sundhage says USA women not unbeatable
The coach of Sweden’s men’s Olympic football team is hoping to include Zlatan Ibrahimovic in his team for the Rio 2016 Games. Following Thursday morning’s draw, Håkan Ericson confirmed that he wants the Paris Saint-Germain star to be one of the ‘over-age’ players in his squad.
The men’s Olympic football tournament is contested by under-23 players, but each squad is allowed three older players. Calling up Ibrahimovic appears difficult for Ericson, as the striker is also due to lead Sweden’s senior team at the European Championship in June. But the player has previously said he would like to play in Rio and the coach hopes that uncertainty over his club future – he is being linked with a host of top English clubs – could play into his hands.
“I hope to use over-age players and I hope that Zlatan will be available, but it depends on which club he will play for and on the European Championships,” said Ericson. “If he is available, I want him to play for us.”
Sweden were drawn with Colombia, Nigeria and Japan in August’s Olympic tournament, with the first two games to be played in Manuas. “It’ll be very hard to play Nigeria and Colombia in the Amazon, while Japan (who they face in Salvador) are a good footballing side.”
Germany’s coach, Horst Hrubesch, meanwhile, crushed rumours that he was considering taking senior players such as Philipp Lahm. “I said from the beginning that the players who earned a place in the tournament will also play in the tournament, therefore we will not take any players who are older than 23,” he said.
Horst Hrubesch will stay loyal to the players who won Germany at place at Rio 2016 (Photo: Getty Images/Matthew Lewis)
The Germans face Olympic champions Mexico, plus London 2012 bronze medallists the Republic of Korea and minnows Fiji. “I am very much looking forward to the match against Mexico, it will be something special,” said Hrubesch. “South Korea are also a very good team, while Fiji is a little bit of an unknown quality, so we must learn about them.”
Hosts Brazil take on South Africa in their first match, followed by Iraq and Denmark. Coach Dunga spoke of “the pressure to win, especially playing at home” and said: “We will respect everyone and believe in the work that we’ve been doing.” Asked about his chances of fielding a full-strength team, including Barcelona star Neymar, Dunga said: “We have a great relationship with all the clubs and we are talking with them – our intention is always to have our best players.”
Dunga hopes that Neymar will lead Brazil's charge for a first Olympic gold (Photo: Getty Images/Buda Mendes)
South Africa coach Owen da Gama aims to capitalise on the host nation’s nerves in their opening game. “We know it’s going to be hard, but there will be a lot of pressure on Brazil, and we beat them before (at Sydney 2000). And we eliminated another host (Senegal) in the qualifying tournament.”
Fiji assistant coach Yogendra Dutt said: “We are the smallest country in the competition and we’re going to learn a lot. It’s definitely going to help grow the game in Fiji.”
The Swedish women’s coach Pia Sundhage is looking forward to playing Brazil after being drawn in a group with the hosts, China and South Africa. She said: “It will be difficult to play Brazil in Brazil, but it will be so much fun… If you say the words ‘Brazil and Sweden’ you think ‘yellow and football’.”
Pia Sundhage knows all about the strength of the USA (Photo: Getty Images: Kevin C Cox)
Having guided the USA to Olympic gold at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games, Sundhage offered some hope to New Zealand, France and Colombia, who were drawn with the world champions. “The USA team is very, very strong, they are the big favourite, but they are not unbeatable. I don’t think any team is unbeatable,” she said.
Australia coach Alen Stajcic knows his team has a tough job after being drawn against medal contenders Germany and Canada, plus Zimbabwe. However, he backed his ‘Matildas’ to rise to the occasion. “There are three top-10 teams in our group, but we’re used to being drawn in tough groups,” he said. “I don’t think we are underdogs in any way. We’re fifth in the world and we are more than capable of beating any side.”