Ukraine skipper Andriy Shevchenko has hailed Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the second best player in the world, stating that the Sweden international would have “deserved” the Ballon d’Or this year if Lionel Messi was not in the running.
Ibrahimovic notched 35 goals for AC Milan last season, his highest-ever tally for a domestic campaign.
And Shevchenko, speaking ahead of the co-hosts’ opening Euro 2012 Group D fixture against Sweden on Monday night, has claimed that the former Barcelona man has the ability to fire his side into the semi-finals.
“With Zlatan in the squad, everything is possible. He has enjoyed perhaps his best season yet. If there wasn't Lionel Messi around, Zlatan could easily have won the Ballon d'Or this year, and he'd have deserved it,” Shevchenko told Goal.com.
"I know Zlatan Ibrahimovic's quality very well, and a team with someone like him is automatically a candidate for a final victory" - Shevchenko
Shevchenko was extremely complimentary of his successor at San Siro, suggesting that the Scandinavians can use the performances of their talismanic captain as a catalyst for an excellent run in the tournament.
“I know Zlatan Ibrahimovic's quality very well, and a team with someone like him is automatically a candidate for a final victory,” said Shevchenko.
“Maybe the Swedish national team is not so strong in defence and in midfield, but I feel they will be a competitor for a semi-finals berth. They have so many young skilful players, some experienced players and most of all they have nothing to lose. No stress, no pressure.”
On a personal level, the 35-year-old is looking forward to one of the proudest moments of his life as he leads the group outsiders out at a finals tournament on home soil in Kiev.
“I could not ask for a better way to close my career. I hope that our results are up to our great expectations. We have a good team, and I'm sure we will do well,” said Shevchenko. “Maybe we'll not win the tournament, but we will give everything we have within. For ourselves, for our fans, for our country, for our people.
“Historically, the Ukrainian national team is seen as underdogs, so for us it is not new. And that's OK for us, as it is better to travel with the lights off, especially when you're co-hosting the tournament.
|33/1||Zlatan Ibrahimovic is 33/1 to be the top goalscorer at Euro 2012|
“We have a good team, a pretty deep squad, but maybe we do not have a generation of top players like we did a few years ago. Our manager Oleg Blochin, is a world-class former footballer and I'm glad he's back, after four years, to coach the Ukrainian national team because he was the greatest Ukrainian player ever, a true symbol for the country in difficult times.”
Shevchenko’s side face up to Ibrahimovic and Sweden in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev on Monday night. Kick-off is at 20:45CET, with exclusive coverage from the ground on Goal.com.