SWEDEN 4 vs ENGLAND 2
MANAGER Roy Hodgson hailed four-goal Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 30-yard overhead kick as “really extraordinary” after the Sweden captain single-handedly dismantled England in last night’s friendly in Stockholm.
Ibrahimovic overshadowed Steven Gerrard’s 100th England cap with a swaggering display of virtuoso brilliance, summed up by an instinctive 91st-minute goal that sparked debate over the best of all time.
Two goals in three first-half minutes from debutant Steven Caulker and striker Danny Welbeck had given England the lead after Ibrahimovic’s opener, but the quicksilver forward replied with three more of increasing wonder in the final 13 minutes.
Amid the one-man show Hodgson was encouraged by his six debutants, of whom 17-year-old Raheem Sterling shone brightest, but there was a catalogue of worrying errors from the usually reliable Joe Hart.
“There’s no doubt the fourth goal was something really extraordinary and of course that put the tin lid on the game,” said Hodgson.
“But of course it was the second and third goals that cost us a victory here, but I must say for 70 minutes of the game I thought we were playing very well and deserved to be leading. I was quite anxious to look at a few players in this game and maybe the changes at the end and the second goal gave them more initiative and we ended up losing, but there were a lot of positives to take from it.”
Hodgson handed debuts to Tottenham defender Caulker, Everton midfielder Leon Osman and Liverpool winger Sterling, and Osman and Sterling worried the Swedish defence in the early skirmishes, while Chelsea defender Gary Cahill was inches away from prodding in Gerrard’s free-kick before Ibrahimovic took centre stage.
The Paris Saint-Germain star, who had belittled England’s technique prior to the game, opened the scoring after 20 minutes when he escaped Caulker’s lax marking to prod high past Hart at the second attempt.
Caulker’s uncertain international baptism continued when the 20-year-old botched an ill-advised Cruyff turn under pressure from Ibrahimovic, sparking a Sweden attack and an unpunished calamity from Hart.
England discovered their verve suddenly in the 35th minute, winger Ashley Young beating his man down the left and whipping an inviting cross for arriving Manchester United colleague Welbeck to despatch.
Within 180 seconds the visitors were in front, Caulker atoning for his generosity to Ibrahimovic by stealing in among three napping Swedish defenders to jab home Gerrard’s pin-point free kick from the right.
They might have scored again after half-time, Welbeck failing to connect with a header from a Leighton Baines cross and Gerrard peppering Andreas Isaksson’s goal with speculative drives of varying accuracy.
But 13 minutes from the end Ibrahimovic resumed his starring role, eluding Ryan Shawcross to take Anders Svensson’s chipped pass on his chest and slam a ferocious volley that Hart could only help in.
The 31-year-old completed his hat-trick on 84 minutes, becoming the first man to do so against England since Marco van Basten in 1988, with a majestic low free kick from 35 yards that Hart still should have reached.
Like the showman he is, Ibrahimovic saved the best for last, though again Hart was again culpable, the goalkeeper’s needless and weak clearing header setting up the Swedish captain for a 30-yard overhead kick of balletic poise, breathtaking audacity and flawless execution.