For the first 45 minutes of the recent World Cup qualifier against Germany in Berlin Sweden were a shambles. Erik Hamren's side were outplayed and 3-0 down after 39 minutes with Miroslav Klose scoring twice. The Sweden defender Andreas Granqvist, who had said before the game he knew exactly how to handle the striker, slipped and ended on his backside when Klose got his first, after eight minutes.
At half-time the shell-shocked players clearly needed a lift. They needed a leader to step forward, someone who could talk sensibly yet impassionedly about how to avoid a humiliation. So Zlatan Ibrahimovic stepped forward. Yes, that Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The man who was once arrested for impersonating a policeman and recently got sent off for kung-fu kicking the St Etienne goalkeeper while playing for Paris St-Germain.
In Berlin, however, with Sweden 3-0 down, Zlatan was at his inspirational best. After Hamren had pretty much admitted that the match was a lost cause, that they needed to keep the scoreline down, Zlatan stood up and spoke to the players.
He talked about what it means to represent Sweden, that the players should be proud to do so and that all was not lost. "He talked in a good and positive way and it inspired us," said Johan Elmander. The Celtic full-back Mikael Lustig added: "It is quite unusual that he says something. But he really showed us his leadership qualities."
In the second half Sweden went 4-0 down before starting their stunning recovery, scoring four goals in less than half an hour to draw the match. At the end they could even have won it. And during that second half – arguably the best half-hour of football Sweden have ever produced – Zlatan once again showed his leadership qualities.
After scoring Sweden's first goal he raced into the net behind Manuel Neuer to gather the ball and show his team-mates he did not the situation a lost cause. And at 4-3 , when the young Ajax winger Tobias Sana missed a great chance to equalise, the Sweden captain consoled him before telling him to get on with the game.
Afterwards a Swedish fan wrote: "I take my hat off to Zlatan. He is a role model for me and my children."
Zlatan as a role model: talk about three words you would never expect to figure in the same sentence. But while the thoughts of that Swedish fan did not quite echo what the Faroe Islands captain had said about Sweden's No10 four days before – he called him "arrogant, dirty and childish" – there is no doubt that Zlatan has matured and turned into a true leader of this Swedish team.
It is doubtful whether he will play for more than 45 minutes against England but during that time he will be a constant thorn in their side. He is arguably in the form of his life, having scored 10 goals in his first 10 matches for PSG, and will inspire those around him.
And those around him are likely to include Fulham's young winger, Alex Kacaniklic, who has impressed since joining up with the Sweden squad for the first time in August and scored his first goal against the Faroe Islands in a narrow 2-1 win. Kacaniklic, who joined Liverpool as a 16-year-old but was transferred to Fulham in 2010 as part of the deal that took Paul Konchesky to Anfield, set up Sweden's third goal in Berlin and is likely to play against England to the left of an attacking midfield trio in Hamren's 4-2-3-1 formation.
England are also set to face Granqvist, who has come a long way since his spell at Wigan in 2007-08. The tall defender, who came close to joining Lazio from Genoa last summer, is likely to play with West Bromwich Albion's Jonas Olsson in the centre of defence and will relish his chance to face English opposition again, as will the goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, who failed to establish himself at Manchester City after joining from Rennes in 2006.
So, while Roy Hodgson has pretty much been forced to select an experimental side, Sweden will put out their best XI, apart from Galatasaray's Elmander, who is injured. The home side, in their brand new national stadium, will fancy their chances to end Hodgson's unbeaten start (during 90 minutes) as England manager – no one more so than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden's new inspirational leader.