Zlatan Ibrahimovic will miss the first leg of Sweden’s World Cup qualifying play-off in March through suspension after brutally flooring Spain defender Cesar Azpilicueta with a shoulder charge in his side’s 1-0 defeat in Seville.
Alvaro Morata came off the bench for the hosts to net an 86th-minute winner at a tense La Cartuja and ensure La Roja’s automatic qualification for next year’s World Cup in Qatar.
Top spot in Group B was very much up for grabs ahead of kick-off and Sweden boss Janne Andersson would have been hoping for similar impact from Ibrahimovic when sending him on at 0-0 that his counterpart Luis Enrique saw from Morata.
But the 40-year-old failed to make any sort of impact on the scoreline after being introduced in the 73rd minute, but certainly left his mark on veteran full-back Azpilicueta with just a couple of minutes remaining.
As a corner was swung in from the left, the AC Milan forward took no prisoners when his shoulder smashed into the back of the 32-year-old Chelsea captain.
Azpilicueta immediately hit the floor in some pain, and after turning round the Sweden striker soon followed suit, although not in quite the same agony at all.
Fellow Spain veteran Sergio Busquets – a team-mate of Ibrahimovic at Barcelona during the 2009-10 season – led complaints towards referee Felix Brych, and the Swede appeared to escape punishment on the field.
But reports in Norway confirm Ibrahimovic was booked by the referee even though none of the TV cameras caught him being shown the yellow card.
The report adds that in UEFA’s official match report, Ibrahimovic is listed with a booking, and with this being his second caution in qualifying, the rules state he is now set to miss the first game of the qualifier in March.
Azpilicueta meanwhile took to Twitter after the game to confirm no damage had been done.
Replying to a GIF on social media showing the incident, the defender posted a picture of himself smiling with the caption ‘everything is good hear’, which will come as a relief to Thomas Tuchel and his Stamford Bridge employers ahead of the Premier League restarting this weekend.
Spain meanwhile held on to ensure passage into the group stages of next year’s winter World Cup when Morata scored with four minutes to go in Seville.
And boss Enrique claimed he felt more pressure during Spain’s World Cup qualification campaign than at Euro 2020 or the latter stages of the Nations League.
‘I have taken off a 100 kilo backpack,’ he said via Mundo Deportivo. ‘I have felt more pressure in this qualifying phase than in the Euros or the ‘Final Four’ of the Nations League.
‘I have taken a great weight off my shoulders. I am focused on having a good World Cup and I know that if a coach does not win, he receives criticism.
‘This is how this wonderful circus of football can be and I accept it.’