Lukaku: Ibrahimovic is good for Serie A

By Sports Desk May 07, 2021

Romelu Lukaku believes Zlatan Ibrahimovic has helped to raise the level of Serie A and is not dwelling on their heated clash earlier this season.

Lukaku had to be dragged away from Ibrahimovic after the Milan striker apparently insulted his mother during January's Coppa Italia derby.

The Belgium striker equalised from the penalty spot in a 2-1 win for Inter, while the Sweden veteran was sent off.

Ibrahimovic denied allegations of racially abusing Lukaku during the spat and, after inspiring Inter to a valedictory Scudetto triumph, the younger man seemed to have no intention of retaining any ill-feeling towards his former Manchester United team-mate.

"We were losing 1-0, I missed a goal, I was a bit angry," he told Corriere Della Sera.

"His words struck me. I'm not happy with having reacted like that but don't let myself get pushed around. 

"I am humble and calm, I am a winner and I fight to death for my team-mates and for the victory."

Lukaku looks likely to fall short in this season's Capocannoniere race as he sits on 21 goals behind Cristiano Ronaldo on 27.

Ibrahimovic has 15, although his haul comes from 18 appearances, compared to 33 for Lukaku, giving him a superior minutes-per-goal rate (95.47 v 127.29).

Lukaku feels Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo plying their trade in Serie A only adds to the division's appeal, with Jose Mourinho's appointment as Roma head coach this week providing similar lustre.

 

"[Ibrahimovic is] a great player, he has won wherever he has played, he has scored more than 500 goals," he said.

"We need players of this level in Serie A. He wants to win for himself, me for Inter, Ronaldo for Juve, now there is Mourinho at Roma.

"They are all good things for Italy. The level is raised, let's hope Inter win again [next season]."

Although ending Juventus' decade of dominance in Italy was joyously celebrated by Inter and their fans, Lukaku conceded there are pangs of regret of Antonio Conte's men bowing out at the group stage of the Champions League this season.

Real Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach progressed out of a tough round-robin section that also featured Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk.

"Leaving in the group stage was a great disappointment, we should have qualified in that group," he added.

"Real Madrid are strong, but we were better than the other two.  Next year we have to overcome the group, then anything can happen."

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    Austria boss Franco Foda has a selection dilemma in Bucharest as he bids to deliver the country's first ever win at the European Championship.

    No team have played more games at the Euros without earning at least one win than Austria, who have fallen short in all six of their past finals fixtures.

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    Arnautovic has indicated he feels ready for a pivotal role after recovering from a thigh injury, but there is no certainty the 32-year-old will play from the start.

    The former West Ham man, now with Shanghai Port, played half an hour for Austria in a friendly against Slovakia last Sunday but Foda may prefer a match-fit Sasa Kalajdzic to lead his attack.

    Foda said in a pre-game news conference: "Ultimately, I have to make the decision about whether Marko is ready for 90 minutes or not."

    A fit and firing Arnautovic's value to his country is obvious, having been directly involved in seven goals in his eight appearances during the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign (six goals, one assist).

    Foda also kept North Macedonia guessing about where David Alaba will feature, the erstwhile Bayern Munich star and new Real Madrid recruit being a top performer both in defence and midfield.

    "We have decided where he will play," Foda said, but gave no detail about that decision.

    The Austria coach added: "We can make history, and we want to. We absolutely want to win and start the European Championship with a positive result. I have a good feeling."

    North Macedonia are making their big-tournament debut as an independent nation and proud captain Goran Pandev said: "Believe that we are ready and we will do our best to make the public and the Macedonian people happy again."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Austria - Marcel Sabitzer

    Sabitzer is coming off a strong season in the German Bundesliga with RB Leipzig and has been linked with clubs including Roma and Arsenal. Austria have plenty of decent pedigree in their squad, but the man who scored eight goals and had three assists on league duty for his club side last term, creating 30 chances in all, is one of a handful with real star quality.

    North Macedonia - Goran Pandev

    At the age of 37, Pandev leads his country on the big stage, and what a moment it will be for him. A star forward in Serie A for over 15 years, notably with Lazio, Inter, Napoli and Genoa, Pandev may be past his prime but he will hope to lead by example at this tournament.

    KEY OPTA FACTS

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    - Including the play-off rounds, North Macedonia won each of their final three games in Euro 2020 qualifying – as many as they had won in their previous nine games of the qualifying campaign beforehand (D2 L4).

    - Austria have yet to reach the knockout stages or even win a single game at the European Championships (D2 L4).

    - Austria have won only one of their last 15 games at major tournaments (D5 L9 – World Cups and Euros), a 2-1 victory against United States in the group phase of the 1990 World Cup. They last reached the knockout stages of a major tournament at the 1954 World Cup, finishing third.

    - Austria have scored only two goals in their six games at the European Championship finals; one of them was a penalty (Ivica Vastic vs Poland, Euro 2008). They have never been ahead at any point in those six games.

    - North Macedonia's 1.25 goals scored per game during Euro 2020 qualifiers (15 in 12 games) was the joint-lowest average of any team to have qualified for the finals, alongside Wales.

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    Beginning their second innings 85 runs in arrears after dismissing New Zealand for 388, the hosts lost Rory Burns for nought to the second ball of the innings – the opener reaching for a Matt Henry delivery and edging to stand-in captain Tom Latham at second slip.

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    Crawley reviewed more in hope than expectation, much like Ollie Pope, whose breezy 23 off 20 balls ended when all-action left arm paceman Neil Wagner brought one back in to the right hander.

    Like Burns, Dan Lawrence followed passing 80 in the first innings with a second-ball duck, Wagner (3-18) having him caught behind before Ajaz Patel again exposed the folly of England failing to pick a specialist spinner.

    Patel bowled James Bracey (8) sweeping and when Root edged to keeper Tom Blundell when trying to cut the slow left-armer – concluding a painstaking 11 from 61 deliveries – the game was emphatically up for his side.

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    UEFA soon confirmed the match had been suspended "due to a medical emergency".

    A further update followed and confirmed Eriksen was now in hospital, with a crisis meeting set for later on Saturday.

    UEFA's statement read: "Following the medical emergency involving Denmark's player Christian Eriksen, a crisis meeting has taken place with both teams and match officials and further information will be communicated at 19:45 CET.

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    The news conference was cancelled and the Football Association said: "Our thoughts this evening are with Christian Eriksen and his family, and all connected with the Danish Football Union."

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