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Leicester City defender Sean St Ledger has hailed the ability of the Swedish striker ahead of the crucial World Cup qualifier at the Friends Arena on Friday, March 22

Republic of Ireland defender Sean St Ledger says that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is on the same level as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sweden host Ireland in a crucial World Cup Group C qualifier in Stockholm on Friday, March 22 and the Leicester City defender has hailed the Paris Saint-Germain striker.

"You probably could put him in the same category as Messi and Ronaldo," said St Ledger. "I think he can win games by himself with magic moments. I think he showed that against England [scoring four in a 4-2 win last November].

"When you play against big players, seven times out of ten, you would say they wouldn't be as good with their feet, or they wouldn't be as mobile, but he seems to have the full package. He is very physical, he's got the feet. He seems quick enough over the ground, he has got everything.

"You can't take that away from him. You give him the respect he deserves and you just try to play your normal game and get on with things," added the 28-year-old.

St Ledger has been out for five months with a hamstring injury, which required specialist treatment in Germany. However, he has come through two full games with the Foxes in the npower Championship, and says he is fully fit and ready for the double-header with Sweden, and Austria next Tuesday.

He said: "I would say I am ready to go. I think I have proven that. I played two games the other night in a short period of time, which is exactly what is required here with Friday and Tuesday [games coming up].

"So, I'm fit and ready for selection. Probably after Tuesday [against Cardiff], I was a little bit stiff and it took me a bit longer to recover than what it usually would do but I was fully prepared for the game against Derby and my hamstring feels fine."

In Richard Dunne and St Ledger's absence, Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has favoured Sunderland's John O'Shea and Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark in central defence for the last two friendly games, against Greece and Poland.

The Italian tactician may now be reluctant to throw St Ledger in to such an important game so soon after the lengthy lay-off. However, the 32-cap defender said he gave the Italian, who celebrated his 74th birthday on Sunday, a special kind of present to try to get in his good books and also revealed that the two had a training-ground chat about the new pope.

"I gave him a birthday kiss. I thought that would do the trick," he said. "We were talking about the pope. I'm being serious. I can't say I know him personally but I think the manager was saying he knows the pope so I was shocked.

"Unless we got mixed up in translation, I've gone back and told my friends the manager knows the pope. I've asked him if I can meet him so we will see if we get that, you never know."

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