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Zlat's a wrap as Ibra bows out

China Daily | Updated: 2023-06-06 10:53
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Milan's Swedish great calls time on glorious career on emotional night at San Siro

Veteran AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced his immediate retirement from soccer at the end of an emotional night at the San Siro on Sunday.

Ibrahimovic was out of contract with the Serie A club at the end of the season and Milan had already announced there would be a special ceremony after its match against Hellas Verona to bid farewell to the 41-year-old Swede.

But Ibrahimovic later revealed in a news conference that no one knew the big news he was about to drop.

"Even my family didn't know, because I wanted that when I announced it everyone heard it at the same time," he said.

Ibrahimovic was given a guard of honor by his teammates as he walked out after the match had finished at the San Siro. He struggled to hold back the tears as he took the microphone and said: "The time has come to say goodbye to soccer but not to you."

Ibrahimovic scored 93 goals in 163 appearances over two spells at Milan. He returned in January 2020 and helped Milan win the Serie A title last year — his second league trophy with the Rossoneri.

But he has struggled with injuries and only made four appearances this season, after undergoing a knee operation last year.

"I have so many memories and emotions inside this stadium," Ibrahimovic said. "The first time I arrived you gave me happiness, the second time you gave me love.

"I want to thank my family … I want to thank my second family: the players. I want to thank the coach and his staff for the responsibility, I want to thank the directors for the opportunity. Last but not least, from my heart, I want to thank you fans."

He also enjoyed trophy-laden spells at Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan, Barcelona, Juventus and Ajax, having started his career with hometown club Malmo.

He made 122 appearances for Sweden, scoring 62 goals.

Many of the fans at the San Siro on Sunday were in tears, as were most of his teammates, who were all wearing jerseys with his name and squad number on the back.

Ibrahimovic told reporters he struggled to find someone who wasn't crying as he looked around during his speech for someone to help give him the strength to stem his own tears.

The big Swede also couldn't resist making a joke.

"I woke up this morning and it was raining, and I thought, 'Even God is crying,'" he said with a smile.

There were emotional scenes even before kickoff as a giant banner was unfurled at one end of the stadium with the word "Godbye". The fans chanted his name and Ibrahimovic was moved to tears as he cupped his hands in the shape of a heart and blew kisses to the supporters.

However, he ended his speech with a smile, saying: "It's too difficult, there are so many emotions going through me now. But I will say, 'I'll see you around, if you're lucky.'"

Ibrahimovic then walked around the stadium to the Tina Turner song Simply the Best.

Napoli parties

As Giovanni Di Lorenzo became the first Napoli player to lift the Serie A trophy toward the sky since Diego Maradona, the stadium named after the Argentina great exploded into a sea of joy.

Napoli had clinched its first Serie A title in 33 years with five rounds to spare but had to wait until the final day of the season to be presented with the trophy, in front of its own fans at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona.

Players danced joyously as they took turns lifting up the Scudetto, while the song We Are The Champions was played.

Di Lorenzo later led the team and the whole stadium in a rendition of "It's us, it's us, we are the champions of Italy".

That came during further celebrations that lasted around three hours after the trophy presentation, with performances by musicians along with speeches. At the beginning of the party there was a tribute to Maradona, and the crowd loudly chanted "Diego! Diego!".

Napoli signed off from a stunning season with a 2-0 win over already relegated Sampdoria, in a match where on-the-field action mattered little.

Sunday saw another round of festivities in Naples, a city that hasn't really stopped celebrating since even before Napoli clinched the title.

And, just like most of the past month, the streets were packed with joyous Napoli fans, chanting and waving flags, and the air was tinged with blue — the team's colors — from flares.

There was also an incredible atmosphere inside the stadium, with the fans singing incessantly — mainly about being champions of Italy.

Luciano Spalletti, who announced at the start of the week that he is leaving the team, was presented with the Serie A coach of the year trophy before kickoff, while winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia received his player of the season award.

Agencies Via Xinhua

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