England and Sweden go head-to-head in Euro 2012 Group D tonight, with the battle between defender John Terry and striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic likely to play a pivotal role in which teams wins the day.
The Chelsea centre back, stripped of the captaincy at international level for off-field reasons, remains the heartbeat of a Three Lions defence that Roy Hodgson is trying to use as a platform for success.
Terry’s no-nonsense style and commitment to the cause have long been a key attribute for club and country, and will once again be evident tonight in Kiev.
For Ibrahimovic, it’s less about commitment and more about skill, style and an ability to score goals.
England fans have always been skeptical though, because the AC Milan star has never really done it against the national side. Indeed, he’s rarely delivered on the Champions League stage in matches against teams from the United Kingdom.
That doesn’t mean that he’s not a threat though. 28 goals in Serie ‘A’ last season tells you that this striker means business, and after the opening game defeat against Ukraine, he knows that goals tonight will be vital.
“My battle with Terry is going to be sensational as I always prefer this level of competition to show just what I can do,” he noted ahead of the big match.
At 6ft 5in, Ibrahimovic is happy to get physical with opponents. Confrontation is not an issue for the former Barcelona forward, who is just as good in the air as on the ground.
England’s coaching staff is wary at least, with national newspaper reports this morning claiming players have been shown videos of the striker at his very best for club and country in the past.
And former national team manager Sven-Goran Erikson, who coached the Three Lions to a 1-1 draw against his native Sweden at the 2002 World Cup, has told Terry & Co not to underestimate the player because of his past record.
“My battle with Terry is going to be sensational as I always prefer this level of competition to show just what I can do.”
Terry will certainly not take the challenge lightly, but the 31-year-old loves putting himself up against the very best in the world.
Ibrahimovic certainly fits that category, and his prediction that their clash will be ‘spectacular’ might just be right.
That said, Terry will be keen to keep it as low key as possible. Their first aerial clash could be key to the whole contest.