Madrid:Zlatan Ibrahimovic believes Barcelona's world-class talent will lead the Spanish champion to a "clasico" victory over Real Madrid on Sunday, in what the Sweden striker has labeled the biggest game of the year in football.
Madrid holds a one-point lead in the standings going into one of the most eagerly anticipated derbies between the archrivals, especially after Madrid spent over euro250 million ($375 million) on players in the summer.
Ibrahimovic said in a recent interview with the Associated Press that he was "pretty sure we will beat them" despite Madrid's additions of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso.
"It will be a very exciting game, a very interesting game. I think it will be the game of the year, not only in Spain but worldwide," Ibrahimovic told the AP. "I'm not worried because I know Barcelona is a stronger team. We have players at each position that are world class."
Barcelona sent Samuel Eto'o and a reported $66 million (euro45 million) to Inter Milan for Ibrahimovic, making him the club's record signing. He has had no problems adjusting to the Catalans style of play, scoring eight goals in 13 appearances so far.
Although Ibrahimovic hasn't played in over three weeks because of the hamstring problem, he left little doubt about whether he would be available at the Camp Nou come Sunday.
"You want to play these big games, these big games remain in the history, of course," the 28-year-old said, before adding a pinch of perspective. "But they are not the games that make you the champions. People don't think about that, (but) it's the small games that make you the champions. You win the big games, but if you don't win the small ones you won't be champions."
This is certainly no small game.
With squads that have an estimated combined value of euro1 billion, a global audience will be following a match that will be covered by more than 700 hundred accredited media representatives from 22 countries. The match will also be showed in cinemas across the country for the first time.
It seems like the perfect backdrop to exhibit the teams' contrasting styles.
Barcelona's high-speed offense was flawless in a midweek win over Inter despite the absences of Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi. As Barcelona goes into the "clasico" on a high, the same can't be said for Madrid, which has struggled to shape its identity under new coach Manuel Pellegrini.
Although Madrid is off to its best start for 17 years, fans are irked by the poor on-field image. And slightly nervous, since Madrid's last meeting against Barcelona _ in April at the Santiago Bernabeu _ ended in a record 6-2 rout that led to the revamp.
"We respect our opponent but we have no fear at all. It's a great team but to me there are no favorites," Ronaldo said on Friday. "We need to focus on the present and future. We can learn from the past but you always have to look forward. We're going to give our best and try to win."
Ronaldo said there was no revenge factor after the Messi-inspired Barcelona beat the Portuguese winger and his former club Manchester United in the Champions League final in Rome in May.
"The only accounts I have pending are my water and gas bills," the Portugal forward said. "That's in the past. I'm at a new club with a winning mentality and we're going to go and try to achieve our objective.
"It's not a Champions League final. The truth is, it's a normal game against a worthy opponent worth three points."