Mar 11, 2016

    Blanc: Ibrahimovic silences doubters


    PARIS Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc said striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic had answered his critics by inspiring his team to victory over Chelsea in the Champions League last 16.

    Ibrahimovic created the opening goal for Adrien Rabiot and then volleyed in a 67th-minute winner as French champions PSG won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday to complete a 4-2 aggregate victory.

    The outspoken Swede, sent off during PSG's success against Chelsea in last season's competition, has faced criticism throughout his career for failing to reproduce his domestic form in European competition.

    But Blanc said he had proven his worth.

    "Zlatan played a match in keeping with what he's done this season," the former France defender told reporters in his post-match press conference.

    "You always have doubts because it's Ligue 1.

    "That's the truth. You ask if he can play like that in the Champions League. He gave his response tonight.

    "He moves the two centre-backs around in the opposing team.

    "It won't give him confidence as he already has huge confidence in himself. But a goal and an assist will do him well, and the coach and the club get the benefit."

    Chelsea's interim manager Guus Hiddink also heralded Ibrahimovic, whose contract expires at the end of the season, when he was asked if the 34-year-old could cut it in the Premier League.

    "He's proving already many, many years what kind of player he is," said the Dutchman who lost goal-scorer Diego Costa and Eden Hazard to injury in the second half.

    "He's a personality, he's the boss in this team and they use him perfectly."

    With Chelsea 10 points below the top four in the Premier League, they face next season being almost certainly their first without Champions League football since Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.

    Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at Everton represents their last potential path to silverware this season.

    Hiddink said the club's hierarchy would need to think hard about their next managerial appointment.

    "Chelsea is now in a transition period," said Hiddink, who has returned last season's Premier League champions to an even keel after succeeding the sacked Jose Mourinho in December.

    "They have to see how to go on and try to regain the lost terrain where Chelsea used to be. Chelsea must consider its short future, how to handle this."

    Hiddink felt that his side had been "too respectful" in the game's early stages. But after falling behind to Rabiot's 16th-minute tap-in, they rallied and equalised through Costa's drilled finish.

    Ibrahimovic had the final say, however, deftly converting Angel di Maria's left-wing cross.

    Blanc feels his side are better equipped to attain success in the tournament's latter stages than a year ago.

    "It's a much higher level, the Champions League, and we have much more experience."