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Feb 5, 2013

Sweden could rest Zlatan Ibrahimovic

STOCKHOLM -- The much-anticipated showdown between Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Argentina-Sweden friendly on Wednesday may not last more than a half.

Sweden coach Erik Hamren has suggested he will use Ibrahimovic sparingly as he has a busy club schedule coming up with Paris Saint-Germain.

"I'll be more careful with those who have Champions League matches next week," Hamren said. "It's an extra special situation for (Ibrahimovic) since he has a match Friday with his club team."

PSG has a league game Friday followed by a Champions League quarterfinal match at Valencia four days later. Messi has a less hectic program: a league match with Barcelona on Sunday but no Champions League action until Feb. 20.

Messi has 34 league goals for Barcelona this season while Ibrahimovic leads the French league's scoring table with 20.

While both players have faced criticism in the past of underperforming for their national teams, recently they have delivered for both club and country.

Messi scored 12 goals, including two hat tricks, in nine matches for Argentina last year. With a total of 31 goals for the national team, the four-time Ballon d'Or winner is now closing in on Diego Maradona's career tally of 33. Gabriel Batistuta is Argentina's all-time top scorer with 54.

Ibrahimovic -- Messi's teammate at Barcelona in the 2009-10 season -- scored four times the last time he put on the national jersey in a 4-2 win over England. That game will be remembered for his last goal, an acrobatic overhead kick from outside the penalty box that will be hard to top on Wednesday at Friends Arena outside Stockholm.

Argentina is coming to Sweden with a top-notch squad, with Messi combining up front with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero.

Midfielder Enzo Perez was injured in a league game with Benfica over the weekend and didn't join the Argentine squad in Stockholm.

Defenders Mikael Antonsson and Joel Ekstrand withdrew from Sweden's squad, and will be replaced by Per Nilsson and Rasmus Bengtsson.

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