Tuesday 29 March 2022, 21:00

Lindelof: Lewandowski battle is going to be fun

  • Victor Lindelof discusses the Poland-Sweden clash and Robert Lewandowski

  • He hails Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s influence on and off the pitch

  • Lindelof explains his iconic coolness

They call him ‘The Iceman’. Victor Lindelof is still unsure of his nickname’s origin. Is it, he wonders, because he hails from Vasteras, by the oft-frozen Lake Malaren? Perhaps because of his placid persona? Or maybe because he was “better at ice hockey than football” and almost pursued a pro career with a puck? Swedes are glad he doesn’t work in an ice office. Lindelof was infallible as the Blågult stunned Italy 1-0 on aggregate in their face-off for a place at the last FIFA World Cup™. He then helped them keep three clean sheets in four outings to reach the Russia 2018 quarter-finals, and two shutouts in four games at UEFA EURO 2020. Then, on Thursday, the 27-year-old Manchester United centre-back was a rock as they beat Czech Republic 1-0 to book a play-off against Poland for a Qatar 2022 place. The Sweden captain chats to FIFA about the upcoming clash, marking Robert Lewandowski, his capacity to switch off from football while off the pitch, and the influence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

FIFA: As a youngster, you had to choose whether to pursue a career in ice hockey or football… Victor Lindelof: When I was younger I tried a lot of different sports, but in the end I stuck to ice hockey and football. I was quite good at ice hockey, a bit better than I was at football. When I was around 14 or 15, I had to make a decision between them and I went with football. It was a very tough decision. Ice hockey is a lot of fun. I still miss it. But I’m happy the way things worked out. How did it feel to eliminate Italy and qualify for the World Cup, and what were the celebrations like afterwards? It was so great. I was a great feeling for me and the whole team. To beat a team like Italy, and over two games, made it even more special. Everybody was very, very happy in the dressing room and the celebrations continued back at the hotel. We had dinner, a few nice drinks. It was a night none of us will ever forget.

He's the greatest player in the history of the sport in Sweden. It’s just remarkable how he can still perform at his age. He’s a remarkable athlete with a great mentality.

Sweden topped a very tough group including defending champions Germany and reached the quarter-finals at Russia 2018. What did you think of Sweden’s campaign? I think we performed well. We had a tough group but we managed to go through. Then after that we played Switzerland. They’re a good team but we beat them. We lost in the quarter-finals. It’s very disappointing to get knocked out, but that was our worst performance of the whole World Cup, so that made it worse. But I was so proud of the guys. I think overall we did a good job.

How was the experience of being at a World Cup? It was a great experience. It was my first World Cup. It was something I had been dreaming about for as long as I can remember. It’s something else. It’s an amazing feeling just being there. Then to represent my country in the World Cup was a really proud moment for me. You’ve made three appearances in the European play-offs for the World Cup and helped Sweden keep three clean sheets. You must be pleased with your performances in those games? That’s always our objective going into games: we want to keep a clean sheet. When we work together as a team, we’re very strong and difficult to beat. I think that showed in those important play-off games. And that’s what we want to do against Poland. We know that if we keep a clean sheet we have fantastic players up front who can score goals.

What do you remember from Sweden’s thrilling victory over Poland at the UEFA EURO last year? It was a tough game. Poland have great players and play good football. It was a very good win for us, but it was a very tough game. Lewandowski’s first goal was fantastic but the second, it wasn’t our best defensive work. But the most important thing was that we won the game. What do you think of Lewandowski? What can I say? He’s a fantastic player. He’s been performing at the highest level for a number of years now. The amount of goals he scores, and the chances he creates, he’s a top, top player. I have huge respect and admiration for him. It’s going to be a really tough fight, but these are the challenges you most look forward to. It’s going to be fun. On the subject of great forwards, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is available for the game. What does he mean to Sweden? He's the greatest player in the history of the sport in Sweden. He means so, so much to Swedish football and the public as well. He’s been at the highest level for so many years now and it’s just remarkable how he can still perform at his age. I have huge respect for the way he has looked after his body and mind as well. He’s a remarkable athlete with a great mentality.

What’s he like to have off the pitch? He's been absolutely fantastic. He talks to a lot of the guys, gives them advice. He spreads great energy at the hotel, in the dressing room. Nobody could ask for more from Zlatan. He’s obviously a character as well, so that’s great for the squad. You’re known as a very cool customer who’s able to switch off from football when you’re off the field. Is that still the case with a game of this magnitude? Yeah. For me this is very important. Going into games, of course I’m very focused. But after the game, I’m able to forget about it, not think too much about it. This has always worked really well for me and it’s the same with Poland. When it’s time, I’ll be ready for the game, but right now I’m just relaxing and taking it easy.

Finally, how confident are you Sweden will reach Qatar 2022? I have great belief in my team and all the players. Poland are a good team with great players, so it’s going to be a very difficult game for us. If we stick to the game plan, and we play at a level we know we can, I think we have a great chance of qualifying.