Zaha's allegiances split despite England call-up


STOCKHOLM (AP) -Even though Wilfried Zaha could make his debut for England in a friendly against Sweden on Wednesday, the 20-year-old Crystal Palace winger isn't sure whether he'll continue for the national team.

Since the match is only a friendly, Zaha could still switch his allegiance to the Ivory Coast, where he was born.

"It's 50-50 at the moment," he says.

Zaha was called up by England coach Roy Hodgson after five players including Wayne Rooney withdrew from the squad. But he was also urged by Didier Drogba, the Ivory Coast striker, to consider playing for his homeland instead.

"Didier Drogba called me and I was shocked, to be honest. He's a humble guy. I've been with England Under-21s and now I will have to make a decision," Zaha said.

England will be playing without Rooney, who has a right ankle injury, and Theo Walcott, who hurt a buttock muscle playing for Arsenal. Tottenham trio Kyle Walker, Aaron Lennon, and Jermain Defoe are also missing due to injuries.

Steve Gerrard hurt his knee in Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Chelsea over the weekend but a scan showed no ligament damage so he's set to captain England on his 100th appearance in the inaugural match at the new Friends Arena outside Stockholm.

"Every time you put the England shirt on it is a proud moment and to get 99 is a fantastic achievement for myself," Gerrard said. "I'm still loving it as much as if it was my first because it's an exciting time to be an England player."

Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic praised Gerrard but was less impressed by English football.

"I think English players have a big heart, always fighting and very aggressive," Ibrahimovic said. "But for me, Steven Gerrard feels more international. He has more skills than a normal player."

Ibrahimovic suggested Gerrard could benefit from a move from Liverpool to a "big international club" outside England.

"For me a fantastic player can make a difference in every country wherever he plays," he said.

The Swede, who has often been criticized by English media, confirmed he received an offer from Manchester City while he was playing for FC Barcelona.

"I thought about it but I was never even close," said Ibrahimovic, who suggested that the Premier League owes its status in part to the media "hype" that also affects expectations for the national team.

"When England enter a championship everyone says England will win," Ibrahimovic said. "Everyone thinks they are like Spain or Italy."

Unlike those two countries, England hasn't made it past the quarterfinals in the major tournaments since the 1996 European Championship.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren is missing strikers Johan Elmander and Ola Toivonen but will count on captain Ibrahimovic to spearhead the attack. The Paris Saint-Germain striker was voted Swedish footballer of the year for the seventh time at an annual football gala on Monday.

Though winter is approaching quickly in Scandinavia, the players won't need any gloves or hats because the 50,000-seat stadium's retractable roof will be closed, and the temperature inside is likely to reach 20 degrees (68 F).

Friends Arena is replacing the soon-to-be demolished Rasunda Stadium, the home of Sweden for 75 years. Sweden also hosted England when Rasunda was inaugurated in 1937. England won 4-0 after three first-half goals by Fred Steele.

England also won the last encounter between them, in the group stage of the European Championship in June, rallying to a 3-2 victory that eliminated Sweden.


AP Sports Writer Rob Harris in London contributed to this report.

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