For a while this was the worst game of the tournament so far, but it was redeemed by the best goal. Zlatan Ibrahimovic's rip-roaring, angled right-foot drive, midway through the second half, was worthy of winning any contest and certainly deserved to beat a Greek side intent on scrapping and scraping their way through. This was not an edifying advert for the European champions as they defended their trophy and justice was done in Group D. Sweden won.
It was Ibrahimovic's first goal for his country in almost three years and, rightly, it was teed up by a certain Henrik Larsson. At 36 years and 264 days, he has again sallied forth out of international retirement. The sea of yellow in one half of the stadium threatened to spill over in wild celebration. It was also the first goal Greece had conceded in almost seven hours of football in Euro finals. "It was a beautiful goal, world-class finish," said the Sweden coach, Lars Lagerback.
It left Otto Rehhagel, the German in charge of Greece for the past seven years, hopping with rage on the touchline. His team had been booed off at half-time and their defensive tactics were woeful, even if he claimed it was none of his doing. "I didn't like my players passing to each other across the defence," Rehhagel said. "I wanted them to play the ball forward, which is what they didn't do." However, he added: "If we had tried a different tactic, we would have conceded five goals by half-time."
If only. Instead Sweden pushed and pressed, with Fredrik Ljungberg prominent, and more threatening than at any time last season at West Ham. But they could only, really, point to a tricky back-header by Ibrahimovic which landed on the roof of the net in a first period too often marked by Greece desperately trying to slow the tempo.
They were almost undone after the restart as Christian Wilhelmsson – who was later injured and may miss the next two games – should have done better than to lob over when through on goal. Greece came closest when Petter Hansson almost headed past his own goalkeeper, but the central defender was there to add Sweden's second just six minutes after Ibrahimovic's drive.
The striker soon departed, with Lagerback claiming it had more to do with tiredness than his troublesome knee. But, just a minute after he went, Ljungberg's low shot was parried, the ball ballooned up and was sent goalwards, where Hansson scuffled with Giourkas Seitaridis. It cannoned between the two and then trundled over the line. Hansson's goal was as scrappy as Ibrahimovic's had been sublime. The Swedes march on; the Greeks, denied a consolation, must contemplate an early exit. "We have to win the next two matches," Rehhagel said. "But if we play as we did today, we won't."
Greece (5-4-1): Nikopolidis (Olympiakos); Seitaridis (Atletico Madrid), Dellas (AEK Athens), Antzas (Olympiakos), Kyrgiakos (Eintracht Frankfurt), Torosidis (Olympiakos); Charisteas (Nuremberg), Basinas (Real Mallorca), Katsouranis (Ben-
fica), Karagounis (Panathinaikos); Gekas (Bayer Leverkusen). Substitutes: Samaras (Manchester City) for Gekas, h-t; Amanatidis (Eintracht Frankfurt) for Dellas, 69.
Sweden (4-4-2): Isaksson (Manchester City); Alexandersson (Gothenborg), Mellberg (Juventus), Hansson (Rennes), Nilsson (Panathinaikos); Wilhelmsson (Deportivo la Coruña), Svensson (Elfsborg), Andersson (Malmo), Ljungberg (West Ham); Ibrahimovic (Internazionale), Larsson (Helsingborgs). Substitutes: Elmander (Toulouse) for Ibrahimovic, 71; Stoor (Rosenborg) for Alexandersson, 74; Rosenberg (Werder Bremen) for Wilhelmsson, 77.
Referee: M Busacca (Switzerland).
Booked: Greece Charisteas, Torosidis, Seitaridis.
Man of the match: Ibrahimovic.Reuse content