Match Report: Sensational Ibrahimovic plays 'video games' with England kids
Sweden 4 England 2
As a riposte to the England fans who sang, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that he was a “s*** Andy Carroll”, the overhead kick that Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored last night was up there with the very best. And his other three were not bad either.
One hesitates to believe that, even on a PlayStation, poor old Carroll could score the kind of bicycle kick that Ibrahimovic struck for his fourth goal last night. The two strikers share a fondness for the ponytail and a reputation for being difficult to manage at times but there the comparison ends. Although in Carroll's defence there are very few who could do what Ibrahimovic did last night.
His fourth goal was the best of the lot, hit from outside the box over Joe Hart after the goalkeeper had failed to clear the ball with a header. "Sometimes when you see him do these things you don't think it is possible," said the Sweden coach, Erik Hamren. "It can feel like you are watching a video game."
No player has ever scored four goals against England before. One would be tempted to say that few have scored a better goal against England, Diego Maradona's second in 1986 aside. Even Steven Gerrard was moved to say that the fourth from Ibrahimovic was "the best goal I have seen live". It was the kind of goal that only a great player brimming with confidence would attempt.
Asked in the aftermath of the game to give his Sweden career a mark out of ten, just as Gerrard had been asked to do for his England career earlier in the week, Ibrahimovic deadpanned "10" in response. At least it might have been a joke, but when you have played as well as he had done, he could have been talking seriously.
And then there was England. Roy Hodgson made six substitutions and gave out six debuts, as many as Sven Goran Eriksson did on that infamous night against Australia in February 2003 when the then-England manager made 11 substitutions. The changes contributed to England throwing away a 2-1 lead in the last 12 minutes but it also needed Ibrahimovic's brilliance in front of goal.
The debutants were Raheem Sterling, Steven Caulker and Leon Osman, who started the game, and Ryan Shawcross, Carl Jenkinson and Wilfried Zaha who came on as second-half substitutes. Caulker scored England's second goal but Sterling was the pick of the bunch with a confident display and a telling pass in the move that led to Danny Welbeck's opener.
It has been a steep rise for the 17-year-old who only just broke into the Liverpool first team this season and he seems capable of holding his own, even when flattened early in the game by a heavy challenge. "As a coach, I've got to be satisfied with what he did," Hodgson said. "He's a young man with a future, a young man with talent. He's got to hone that talent with Liverpool."
It was less easy for the players who came on in the second half, especially Shawcross who was left trailing in the wake of Ibrahimovic when he turned sharply away from the Stoke City man on the edge of the area before beating Hart for the second. Shawcross can console himself that if you are going to be beaten by someone, it might as well be the man who won eight European league titles in a row.
As for Hart himself, this was not his finest night. He would have had to have been at his best to stop Ibrahimovic but he was a way off that. The third from the free-kick was perhaps the softest, given that it crept in the far post. The fourth was beautifully executed but Ibrahimovic would not have had the opportunity had Hart not headed the ball into no-man's land.
The big test awaits in three matches' time when England go to Podgorica to play Montenegro for what will be their sixth World Cup qualifier in March. So far Hodgson has used 44 different players over six months in his 12 games in charge although he considers last night only his first defeat as England manager (he does not count the elimination on penalties at the hands of Italy at Euro 2012 as falling into that category).
It ended with that goal from Ibrahimovic but for most of the game the opening match in the new £260m Friends Arena was a strange affair. With the roof closed and the air warm the atmosphere was non-existent. Built with economic, modern Swedish design and with very little noise from the home fans it was not unlike a quiet mid-week afternoon in Ikea.
On 20 minutes, the Blackburn Rovers midfielder Martin Olsson caught Sterling in possession and fed the ball into centre-forward Mathias Ranegie, who returned the ball to Olsson. From the cross, Caulker managed to block Ibrahimovic's first shot but he stabbed the second chance in with his toe.
At that point Caulker was not having one of his best games. Nervy on the ball he allowed Ibrahimovic to out-muscle him in one situation; then he misplaced a pass that went into touch. But he improved and scored England's second goal in the space of three minutes.
The first was nicely made and showed the qualities that this England team possess when they attack directly and at pace. Sterling picked a lovely pass out to Ashley Young on the left and he pulled away from full-back Mikael Lustig with ease. At the back post his cross was steered in Welbeck.
Three minutes later, Sterling won a free-kick on the right and Gerrard's ball to the back post was met by Caulker for the first goal by an England debutant since David Nugent scored against Andorra in 2007.
Jack Wilshere came on after the hour for his first game in an England shirt since June last year and Tom Huddlestone won his first cap in more than two years. Osman's near-post shot was England's best second-half chance and then after the substitutions came Ibrahimovic's grand intervention.
He evaded Shawcross for the second and hit a low shot from substitute Anders Svensson's pass that Hart got a hand to but could not stop. The third was a free-kick drilled low and bouncing over the turf that went to the right of the wall. Then came the glorious fourth. Shawcross almost got it off the line but you did not have to be a Swede to be glad that he did not quite get there.
Zlat's magic! Ibrahimovic's sensational overhead kick
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has long been criticised for his poor record against English sides but he struck back with a vengeance last night. Having already secured the match ball, the 31-year-old served up the coup de grâce in injury time.
Taking advantage of Joe Hart's poor headed clearance 10 yards outside the penalty area, Ibrahimovic waited for the ball to drop. Then leaping up and twisting his body in mid-air, he struck an audacious overhead kick, his effort looping over the stranded Hart and into the unguarded net, beating Ryan Shawcross's attempt to clear.
Man of the match Ibrahimovic.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee S O Moen (Nor).
England off the top
England's woes accumulated as they also lost top spot in their World Cup qualification group last night. Montenegro beat San Marino 3-0 to move two points clear.
San Marino 4/0/0/4/0/16/0
England results Moldova 0-5 England; England 1-1 Ukraine; England 5-0 San Marino; Poland 1-1 England.
England remaining fixtures
22 Mar 2013 San Marino (a), 26 Mar Montenegro (a), 6 Sept Moldova (h), 10 Sept Ukraine (a), 11 Oct Montenegro (h), 15 Oct Poland (h).
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