Messi-Ibra showdown as Sweden hosts Argentina

KARL RITTER Associated Press Published:

STOCKHOLM (AP) -- The much-anticipated showdown between Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in Argentina's friendly against Sweden on Wednesday may not last more than a half.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren said Tuesday he will probably substitute Ibrahimovic at halftime as the striker has a busy club schedule coming up with Paris Saint-Germain.

"It's nice to play a lot of matches but you have to respect your body, too," Ibrahimovic said. "It needs to last for another three-four months."

PSG has a league game Friday followed by a Champions League quarterfinal match at Valencia four days later. Messi has a less hectic program: a league match with Barcelona on Sunday but no Champions League action until Feb. 20.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said there's no doubt which of the two is better.

"Zlatan is a world-class player, but Messi is the best in the world," Sabella was quoted as saying by Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet.

Ibrahimovic didn't argue.

"Leo is a fantastic player. Individually probably the best in the world," Ibrahimovic said. "That's why he wins all the individual prizes."

Messi has 34 league goals for Barcelona this season while Ibrahimovic leads the French league's scoring table with 20.

While both players have faced criticism in the past of underperforming for their national teams, recently they have delivered for both club and country.

Messi scored 12 goals -- including two hat tricks -- in nine matches for Argentina last year. With a total of 31 goals for the national team, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner is now closing in on Diego Maradona's career tally of 33. Gabriel Batistuta is Argentina's all-time top scorer with 54.

Ibrahimovic -- Messi's teammate at Barcelona in the 2009-10 season -- scored four times the last time he put on the national jersey in a 4-2 win over England. That game will be remembered for his last goal, an acrobatic overhead kick from outside the penalty box that will be hard to top on Wednesday at Friends Arena outside Stockholm.

Argentina is coming to Sweden with a top-notch squad, with Messi combining up front with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero.

Midfielder Enzo Perez was injured in a league game with Benfica over the weekend and didn't join the Argentine squad in Stockholm.

Sweden striker Johan Elmander was ruled out of the match after leaving training on Tuesday with a right thigh injury. IFK Goteborg's Tobias Hysen is expected to partner Ibrahimovic up front.

Defenders Mikael Antonsson and Joel Ekstrand withdrew from the Swedish squad and were replaced by Per Nilsson and Rasmus Bengtsson.