Sweden 4-2 England
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scores four goals to condemn England to defeat in Stockholm
By Nicholas Veevers
England’s year was brought to an end with defeat in Stockholm, but the opening of Sweden’s new Friends Arena will be remembered for something of a striking masterclass from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Despite Roy Hodgson’s side being led out by their own captain Steven Gerrard on his 100th appearance for the Three Lions, the Swedish skipper will steal all of the headlines after his four goals single-handedly won the game for his side.
It had looked as though Gerrard was going to have a triumphant return on his own personal milestone, with England in the lead and in control for large parts of the game.
But with Ibrahimovic intent on making it a memorable start for Sweden in their new home, three goals in the last 15 minutes from the former Inter Milan, Barcelona and Juventus ace turned the match on its head.
All four of his strikes showed a different quality, but it was his fourth and final goal in stoppage time which really brought the house down and condemned Hodgson to his first defeat as England Manager.
Even though the final score certainly flattered the hosts, the individual performance of the Swedish star was good enough to grace any occasion.
There was little sign of the fireworks to come in the early stages, but after a timid start, it was Sweden who took the lead in the 20th minute.
The Three Lions were caught out when Glen Johnson’s pass towards debutant Raheem Sterling was intercepted by Jonas Olsson, allowing his namesake Martin to race clear into the space left by Johnson.
The Blackburn man’s centre picked out Ibrahimovic and after his first effort was blocked by Leighton Baines, he finished smartly from the rebound, toe-poking a shot into the roof of the net to get things underway.
That blow brought an instant improvement from England and they drew level ten minutes before the break, following a flowing move in the Swedish half. It started with the impressive Sterling, whose diagonal pass set Ashley Young free on the left. A few tricks saw him leave two defenders in his wake before his cross was finished off from six yards by Danny Welbeck.
Three minutes later and England were ahead, as Gerrard’s wicked free-kick into the area was perfectly placed to the far post where another debutant, Steven Caulker, was on hand to slide the ball home and give his side a half-time lead.
It was a strong start to the second half for England too, forcing a string of corners before Gerrard’s cute pass into Leon Osman saw the Everton man fire a low shot into the side-netting.
Gerrard then stung Andreas Isaksson’s hands with a curling shot, before seeing an instinctive volley from 25 yards arrow just wide of the target.
But Ibrahimovic always remained a threat at the other end, as England were about to discover when the Paris St. Germain striker brought the hosts level in the 77th minute. Anders Svensson chipped a pass forward for his skipper, who expertly controlled on his chest in the area before volleying first-time past Hart with aplomb.
The fairytale story for Ibrahimovic was complete with just over five minutes to go, when his powerful, low free-kick crept past the wall and beat Hart into the bottom corner.
Ibrahimovic saved his best until last though. Hart’s headed clearance just outside his area appeared to be floating to relative safety, but an instantaneous jump, twist and volley back into the box from the 31-year-old floated over both Cahill and Ryan Shawcross to nestle in the goal and bring the house down.
It was a strike fit for any occasion, and one that everyone present in the Friends Arena will be talking about for years to come.
For England, there were a number of positives for Hodgson to take into The FA’s 150th anniversary year, with eye-catching debuts for Sterling, Caulker, Osman, Shawcross and Wilf Zaha to dwell on, as the small matter of World Cup Qualifying comes back onto the agenda in 2013.