STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden welcomed back Zlatan Ibrahimovic from a knee injury on Tuesday ahead of their opening European Championship qualifier, with the record international goal-scorer cheekily declaring himself the past, present and future of the side.
The 41-year-old recently returned from a 14-month injury layoff and scored a penalty for AC Milan against Udinese to become the oldest player ever to score in Italy's Serie A. He is now setting his sights on the opening Euro qualifier with Belgium on Friday in Stockholm.
Asked whether he intended to take his side all the way to the finals in Germany next year, Ibra gave a tongue-in-cheek response reminiscent of his more bombastic younger self.
"If I feel good and I'm selected by the coach, I will help him, the team and the country to do my best. So I think at my age you cannot think future, you think present - even if I am the past, present and the future," he said with a wry smile.
The striker, who is Sweden's top scorer with 62 goals in 121 games but without an international goal since November 2015, revealed that he had undergone three knee operations in the last 14 months.
"Basically, my knee was swollen for eight, nine months, but then suddenly, one month ago, something happened and then everything became positive, and I got energy from it," he explained at a media conference.
"From there, we could work more and more, so from standing still for eight months, suddenly I could move normally, and then from normal I tried to play the game, and it become good, and from there I step it up."
Last Saturday, Ibrahimovic captained AC Milan against Udinese in his first start since the injury, and though his penalty represented another milestone in his glittering career, his joy was tempered by the fact that the game finished 1-1.
"I had the honour to be the captain for my team and I didn't win the game, so the outcome could have been better if I won the game, but I didn't," he said, but he showed he was glad to be back playing football at the highest level again.
"That is important to me, because I'm not here for charity ... I'm here to play my game, to provide and bring results through my performance. Hopefully I can continue to do that, but at the same time feeling healthy," he said.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Hugh Lawson)