Ibrahimovic retired from international football after Euro 2016 and ruptured a cruciate ligament playing for United in April 2017. But he has not been selected by Sweden coach Janne Andersson despite his return to fitness with LA Galaxy.
There has been speculation since Sweden qualified last November that Ibrahimovic, 36, could make a comeback and the debate has overshadowed their build-up.
Andersson claimed Ibrahimovic decided not to come out of retirement but the forward has said he should be playing and has blamed the Swedish media for his absence.
The feeling held by many in Sweden is the team is better without Ibrahimovic. Sweden finished second in a qualifying group that included France and Holland, beat Italy in a play-off and the hope is they can spring a surprise and progress through a group that includes Germany and Mexico.
Ibrahimovic, who scored 62 goals in 116 games for his country, has hit back at claims Sweden are better off without him and said: “This is the Swedish media mentality. I do not have a typical Swedish name and I do not have the typical Swedish attitude and behaviour.”
Ibrahimovic’s face will be everywhere in Russia as part of his agreement with Visa which will make it impossible to avoid the debate about his omission.
Former Sweden striker Henrik Larsson, though, feels it was the right decision to leave Ibrahimovic out.
“A fit Zlatan, the way he was before his injury, I think any coach in the world would bring him,” says Larsson, a Betfair ambassador. “But he is not that. There is no point talking about that. It is about the players who are there.
“He is the best player we ever had from Sweden so it is not strange the questions came up. But I think it is good now for the group that they can focus on the team and the squad.
“If you look back through history when Sweden succeed we need to be a collective. Everybody needs to read from the same page and then everything can happen at the World Cup.”
For so many years it was all about Ibrahimovic for Sweden but they have gone back to the hard-working attitude that helped them reach the semi-finals of the 1994 World Cup, qualify for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and reach the last eight of Euro 2004.
RB Leipzig winger Emil Forsberg is viewed as their biggest talent but the Swedish public has fallen in love again with a national team that does not have a star.
“The team is going to be different in the sense that everybody has to move,” says Larsson. “The opponent knew in the past that when the ball went up front it was going to him [Ibrahimovic]. Now they are not sure. Is it coming short into the feet of either Ola Toivonen and Marcus Berg, who are the two strikers, or are they going long?”
Sweden face South Korea in their opening group game before they play holders Germany. There is less pressure on them without Ibrahimovic in the team and Larsson hopes teams will underestimate them.
“Everyone would be pleased if we went through the group stage and then you never know,” he says. “I hope there are a few teams who underestimate Sweden.”