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Euro 2016 Player Battle: Zlatan Ibrahimovic vs Gianluigi Buffon

A look at the upcoming battle between two legendary footballers of our times.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic Gianluigi Buffon
Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Gianluigi Buffon played against each other in the Serie A

As Sweden vs Italy draws closer in Euro 2016, it gives us the opportunity to see two players who have been characterised by their recognition as amongst the best players we’ve seen over the last 10-15 years (In Gianluigi Buffon’s case even more) and also as footballers whose consistency over the years has been stunning. You can’t talk about the best forwards over the last couple of decades and not mention the brilliant Swede, and even discussions over the best goalkeepers of all time have to start with Buffon.

In this piece, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at one of the most exciting battles coming up for us to savour in Euro 2016, the direct sight of two absolute legends coming up against each other.

The way Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Buffon are performing, at 34 and 38-years-old respectively it’s easy to think they still have several years in them but one still can’t ignore that they’re approaching the end of their careers. How many more international tournaments we’re going to see them in is questionable, and another European Championship for either looks very unlikely.

With a staggering 21 league titles between them and a whole host of other trophies and accolades, their experience will be key when Sweden take on Italy in the second round of the group matches at the European Championships. 

Leadership

Gianluigi buffon
Buffon is known for his leadership abilities 

After Juve’s disastrous start to their league season, Buffon ranted at his teammates and gave them a long talk on how they couldn’t possibly perform like that anymore. The result was a historic winning run that resulted in Juve storming to the Serie A title, from 12th position in the table after 10 rounds.

Buffon’s influence in this run was clear to see, his leadership and organisation of the defence resulted in Juve breaking the all-time record for the most consecutive minutes without conceding and the goalkeeper has been in the form of his life.

Also read: Euro 2016: Italy have perfected the art of closing out games

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not a man who knows how to be passive. He’s a straightforward, confident man and it shows in the way he plays, constantly trying things on the pitch that no one else would dare to. His confidence rubs off on his team, wherever he plays and he’s been a great leader for the entirety of his career as well, always galvanizing and inspiring his troops to push harder.

One-on-one’s

Romelu Lukaku was sent clear on goal in the second half of Belgium vs Italy, a moment that would have swung the momentum towards the Belgians. Buffon came racing out of his goal though and spread out, in a way that would have had goalkeeping coaches across the world oozing with delight and pointing out to their pupils. Lukaku dinked Buffon anyway but just wide, the Italian maestro had ended up doing enough. Buffon has always been quick off his line and excellent at one on one’s.

Ibrahimovic has had a fantastic goalscoring record throughout his career, but one-on-one situations aren’t entirely his forte. Surprisingly it’s pretty rare to find players, (even forwards) who have great odds of scoring when put in alone with the goalkeeper.

Luis Ronaldo immediately springs to mind for the way he bedazzled keepers with his stepovers and slotted the ball into the net like it was the easiest thing in the world. A lot of strikers struggle to convert even half of their one on one’s though, and this is one area in which Zlatan isn’t brilliant.

If you find a match situation in which the 34-year-old Swede is alone on goal with Buffon, expect the Italian to have a slight edge.

Ball distribution

Italy’s 3 man backline means that Georgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli spread out when Gigi has the ball to receive a pass from him and start to build a move. Buffon’s distribution has always been good and he looks to initiate a quick counter-attack whenever he can.

Ibrahimovic’s creativity and playmaking skills are immense and have been on full display over the past few years. He often drops deep and plays little dinks over the defence and looks to play in his fellow players. Buffon will have to watch out for Zlatan’s through balls and crosses as he’ll look to create a scoring opportunity for his teammates.

Shots from distance

Buffon has been a fantastic shot stopper for the entirety of his career. He parried away Radja Nainggolan’s ferocious shot with ease in Italy’s first match and his athleticism is still amazing at his age. You’ll rarely see Buffon letting the ball slip from his hands or letting a shot past him that should have been saved.

Ibrahimovic though, from outside the box though is especially lethal. His marvelous technique gives him a stunning array of shots when you least expect it and Buffon will have to constantly be on his guard. Zlatan’s gravity-defying goal against England and even his beautiful backheel volley against Italy in Euro 2004 while Buffon was in goal will be something that Italian will surely remember.

To summarise, Buffon and Ibrahimovic are two players who’ll know each other inside out. They’ve played together at Juve, played against each other a multitude of times in Serie A and in international tournaments and they should serve up a battle worthy of the occasion. Whoever comes out on top between these two on the day could be instrumental in determining the outcome of the match. 

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