When Sweden failed to win their World Cup qualifying playoff against Portugal, all the talk was about the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from the competition in Brazil. Ibrahimovic has had a great season and scored twice in that playoff match but has been sidelined with an injury. The injury and the impressive form of Gareth Bale makes the Welshman the most missed star in Brazil.
If you like stats then almost anything can be read into the players’ production. Bale has a slightly higher shooting percentage. Zlatan has made 38 appearances for his club this year with 35 goals, 11 assists and six yellow cards. Bale has made 28 appearances scoring 19 goals with 15 assists and three yellow cards. Zlatan has never been brought on as a substitute while Bale has made six of his appearances off the bench.
Ibrahimovic has a bigger personality and is more of a spokesperson. He recently took over the soccer twitter-sphere to explain how one can “dare to Zlatan”. There is no question that he is an amazing talent and can pull off some things that are unbelievable. He will still be missed in Brazil, but his team had a chance to make it there. Bale’s Welsh squad never had a chance.
Wales does not have a team that can compete for a World Cup slot. However, in the qualifying run they scored nine goals and Bale scored four. He was subbed out at halftime during one match, went unused in a match against Macedonia, came on in the second half at another and was unavailable for two matches. Wales played a total of 10 matches in their qualifying run, so when Bale was there he contributed. One may wonder if he just wasn’t used as much because they never really had a chance to get to the World Cup.
Ibrahimovic did score eight goals in the 11 total games that Sweden played in their qualification run. This is what he is asked to do. For Bale, it is about an all-around game. He can distribute, cause havoc on the end line, use his pace to get around the defense and have a scoring touch from many areas on the field. His record move to Real Madrid stole the headlines, but he was still second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo. With Ronaldo hurt, Bale has taken over as was shown on his game-winning goal in the Copa del Rey final.
Bale’s run with pace to send a ball on and outrace a defender to score the clincher in the dying moments is a spat of brilliance that will be missed in Brazil. While Zlatan has an eye for goal, he does not have Bale’s speed or distribution skills. Ibrahimovic was also held scoreless in the previous three matches before tweaking his hamstring. Obviously, the injury is hindering this comparison, but it is hard to ignore the brilliance of Bale.
If one of these two is up for the Ballon d’Or next year it will be Ibrahimovic. However, if you want to see an all-around game from an attacking player, Bale is the one. Bale will be the only Real Madrid star not in Brazil and he will be missed. Don’t feel bad for him, though. He will pocket £2.5m doing a promotional tour of Asia in the summer.
Gareth Bale Becomes Real Madrid Hero