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Rediff.com  » Sports » Champions League: Before the game Ibra, Mourinho trade compliments

Champions League: Before the game Ibra, Mourinho trade compliments

April 02, 2014 13:14 IST

Champions League: Before the game Ibra, Mourinho trade compliments

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Paris St Germain are stronger than last season and he is in the best shape of his life, yet Zlatan Ibrahimovic says experienced Chelsea are the hot favourites in the Champions League quarter-final against the French champions.

While, Mourinho, whose team visit the Ligue 1 champions in their Champions League quarter-final first leg on Wednesday, managed the Sweden striker at Inter Milan where he said they "connected well" during the 2008-09 season.

Paris St Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be remembered as one of the game's greatest players despite never gracing the English Premier League which is the world's best, according to Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

Ibrahimovic's career has included spells at some of the biggest teams in Italy, Spain, France and the Netherlands, but he is unlikely to set foot in the Premier League having said that Paris St Germain would be his last big club in Europe.

"The biggest possibility to win the Champions League is with Paris," Ibrahimovic, who has never won Europe's elite club competition, told a news conference. "This is my last contract in Europe and to win it I must win with Paris.

"The day I leave Paris is the day I go down a level or quit football. I have a contract until 2016."

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Image: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain, right, and Jose Mourinho
Photographs: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images and Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

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PSG improved but Chelsea still favourites: Ibra

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PSG, who were knocked out by Barcelona in the quarter-finals last year, have overcome weaker opponents so far this season and 2012 champions Chelsea are clearly a big test of their European credentials.

"We are beginners in everything we do while Chelsea have had a project for 10 years," Sweden striker Ibrahimovic, who has scored 10 goals in Europe's premier competition this season, told a news conference at the Parc des Princes.

"I think Chelsea are the super favourites.

"Experience is an advantage for the one who has it. I think Chelsea has more experience in the Champions League. We're in the position Chelsea were eight or nine years ago."

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Image: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Photographs: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

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'I think we are better today than one year ago collectively'

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Chelsea started their transformation into continental powerhouses when Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich took over the club in 2003, a move PSG copied in 2012 when Qatar Sports Investments took charge and lured world-class players like Ibrahimovic and Brazil centre back Thiago Silva.

PSG, however, are learning fast.

"The big difference (with last year) is that it is my second year as well as my team mates. We know each other better," said Ibrahimovic.

"I think we are better today than one year ago collectively."

Coach Laurent Blanc called for patience.

"Things have been going very very fast but experience of the Champions League requires time," he said.

"ManchesterCity is an example but we can see they're not in the quarter-finals. At European level, in spite of our ambitions and our means we're one of the two clubs with the least experience," he added, referring to Atletico Madrid who face Barcelona.

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Image: Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) celebrates
Photographs: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

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'A big test for us to see where we stand'

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Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had a different point of view.

"I don't think (experience) plays a big role and maybe Paris as a club don't have Chelsea's experience but player by player...," he told a news conference.

"Thiago (Silva), Alex, (Thiago) Motta, Ibra, all of them have a big experience. And we also have players with no Champions League experience."

Wednesday's first leg at the Parc des Princes will provide PSG with the opportunity to prove their worth.

"It's with the kind of games like tomorrow's that we can make a statement," said Ibrahimovic.

"It's a big test for us to see where we stand."

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Image: Paris Saint-Germain coach Laurent Blanc attends a training session
Photographs: Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

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'Mentally and physically I feel very strong'

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The game will be a tactical battle between Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Blanc, with the Blues likely to look to hit PSG on the break.

"It's two different styles. We're going to stick to our philosophy," Blanc said.

"If we start getting scared of being hit on the break we'll play against nature and it's not going to do us any good.

"Tomorrow, we should avoid conceding goals. We know there are going to be counter-attacks and we'll get ready for that but we're not going to just defend."

That would probably be a waste of Ibrahimovic's talent.

"I feel very good I have to be honest so far this season it has been my best season. Mentally and physically I feel very strong," the Swede said.

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Image: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain FC
Photographs: Milos Bicanski/EuroFootball/Getty Images

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World class

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Mourinho said later on Tuesday that missing out on playing in the Premier League would not alter the Swede's status as a world class player.

"I think he has to be where he is happy," the Chelsea manager told a news conference.

"But in the meantime, I think it's a pity for him that when he finishes his career having played in the most important countries of football and won titles in the most important countries of football, he didn't play in the best league of the world.

"It's a pity but he can be considered as one of the greatest players even if he has never played in the Premier League."

Mourinho also hailed the 32-year-old Ibrahimovic as a good player to work with, even though they disagreed when the Swede left Inter for Barcelona in 2009.

"I think we connected very well, we never had a problem, the only time we disagreed was obvious because I wanted him to stay and he wanted to leave," the Portuguese said.

"The difficult persons to work with are the players who don't want to win, who don't want to be the best.

"To be his coach was fantastic, there was no problem at all,we are friends."

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Image: Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho talks to the media
Photographs: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

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Biggest threat

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Their friendship will be put to one side on Wednesday as Ibrahimovic represents the French club's biggest threat at the Parc des Princes.

Mourinho, who will be without injured striker Samuel Eto'o, said PSG are favourites due to their impressive firepower.

"They have a team full of fantastic attacking players," he said.

"It's a team full of fantastic strikers and goalscorers and that is what makes the difference at this level."

Mourinho made no secret of the players he will task with keeping PSG's attacking talent under wraps, naming his back four and goalkeeper in advance.

"(Petr) Cech, (Branislav) Ivanovic, (Gary) Cahill, (John) Terry, (Cesar) Azpilicueta," he said with a big smile.


Image: Jose Mourinho of Chelsea arrives for a training session
Photographs: Clive Rose/Getty Images

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