Majestic Zlatan outshone Hodgson starlets

Trevor Steven
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PICKING over England’s defeat in Sweden on Wednesday there is only one place to start, with the majestic, swaggering performance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and that jaw-dropping goal.

The ball must have been six feet in the air when he made contact with it, taking out the goalkeeper and defender from 35 yards. I’m sure it will now be a permanent fixture in all best goal shortlists. I had first-hand experience of Maradona’s incredible solo effort against England at the 1986 World Cup but Ibrahimovic’s overhead kick is definitely in the top five strikes I have ever seen.

His other goals were also brilliant. His first was just a flick of the boot but it rocketed past Joe Hart, while he started and finished the second before losing Ryan Shawcross and volleying home. He was head and shoulders above every other player on the pitch, literally and figuratively, although there were some encouraging England performances from debutants and fringe players.

Everton’s Leon Osman looked very comfortable winning his first cap and showed he is at the top of his game. Unfortunately it has come at the age of 31, but he looks a better midfield option than James Milner to me. Teenager Raheem Sterling is obviously going to be exceptional and looks set to keep his place in the squad, and although he didn’t get much time Wilfried Zaha looks outstanding and it made sense to blood him.

I like the look of Tottenham’s Steven Caulker, who was very strong and seemed to fit in very well, but I’m less sure about his fellow defender Shawcross. I didn’t think he should have been in the squad and he was found out by the clever movement of Ibrahimovic.

Of the fringe players, left-back Leighton Baines translated his excellent club form to the international stage, while striker Danny Welbeck is establishing himself very well.

My concerns are that many of the players involved, such as Osman, may not make it into the next squad and that this game has not really helped Roy Hodgson get a better idea of his best XI. Also, while we are producing promising youngsters, they are mostly wide players, such as Sterling, Zaha and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Aside from Jack Wilshere there is a lack of emerging talent in central midfield. Tom Huddlestone? I don’t think so.

Lastly, Hodgson must be alarmed by the deterioration of Hart. He looked rock solid in the last two seasons but mistakes have dented his confidence and he is now over-thinking and making irrational decisions. He needs to knuckle down and get his game back before other teams start to target him as a weak link in this England team.

Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played at two World Cups and two European Championships. He now works as a media commentator.