Sweden 4 England 2: Lessons as Ibrahimovic inspires comeback
Sweden 4 England 2: What lessons did we learn as Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic starred at the new Friends Arena?
Ibrahimovic caps special night for Sweden
It was fitting that Sweden’s captain and talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic stole the limelight in the first-ever match at the new Friends Arena. Despite a promising opening spell for England which saw Roy Hodgson’s men enjoy 67 per cent of possession, the home side ruthlessly exploited the Three Lions’ exposed right-hand side. With Glen Johnson and Raheem Sterling both pushed forward, Sweden countered, with Blackburn’s Martin Olsson and Mathias Ranegie combining to tee up Ibrahimovic. Tottenham defender Steven Caulker made a timely interception but the rebound fell kindly to the Paris Saint-Germain striker, who fired high into the roof of the net. The 30-year-old’s second strike was superbly taken, with the giant striker ghosting past England debutant Ryan Shawcross and volleying past Joe Hart to restore parity against a fading England side. The Sweden skipper put the home side back in front with a low free-kick from 40 yards which beat the Manchester City goalkeeper. But Ibrahimovic certainly saved his very best until the final moments of a memorable night in Stockholm. Hart rushed off his line to clear a long, lofted ball, yet his miscued header fell into the path of PSG man, who instinctively twisted his body to launch an audacious overhead kick from well outside the penalty area which dipped into the England net. Ibrahimovic is the first player since Marco van Basten in 1988 to score a hat-trick against the Three Lions.
Hart experiencing his first dip in form
By Hart’s high standards of Manchester City’s title-winning campaign, he has endured a below-par start to the season. The Citizens have managed to keep just two clean sheets in 17 attempts and Hart was at fault for Caulker’s header at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. There was cause for concern in the first half in Stockholm within the opening 180 seconds when a lack of communication saw Hart and Gary Cahill collide in the England area. Hodgson was fielding a new-look centre-half pairing in the form of Cahill and Caulker, and there was a notable sense of uncertainty in the Three Lions defence, epitomised by an unseemly skirmish in the England area on the half-hour mark. While Hart could do little to prevent Ibrahimovic’s first strike, the former Shrewsbury Town man could only flap a meek fist at the striker’s powerful second, before being caught wrong-footed for the home side’s third. A miserable night was capped when Hart hastily rushed off his line in the 90th minute to clear a long ball. His tame header fell to Ibrahimovic, who nonchalantly guided an overhead kick from 30 yards into Hart’s net to seal Sweden’s first win against England since 2004. Let the Ben Foster brigade come forth.
Gerrard close to emulating Beckham in caps & set-pieces
Steven Gerrard became just the sixth player to amass 100 England caps and the Liverpool captain marked the landmark with a typically assured performance, although his night was overshadowed by the Sweden captain. The 32-year-old will not go down as an England great having failed to inspire a successful run to the last four or final of a major tournament but he will be remembered as a great servant for the Three Lions. It should be noted that Gerrard, like Paul Scholes, was played out of position in left midfield during his peak, contributing to a limited impact during England’s ‘Golden Generation’. The Reds skipper was his nation’s stand-out player at Euro 2012, and a feature of his Indian summer on the international scene has been his set-piece delivery – who can forget his delivery for Joleon Lescott’s opener against France? In the 16th minute in Stockholm, Gerrard whipped in a deliciously curling free-kick which Gary Cahill failed to touch past Andreas Isaksson. It was a warning sign, and the veteran midfielder did create England’s second with a wicked delivery, which Caulker forced into the Sweden net. The Three Lions skipper is close to eclipsing David Beckham’s out-field record of 115 caps but also emulating the LA Galaxy star’s set-piece delivery.
England’s new boys impress
Caulker and Raheem Sterling both impressed as they embarked on the first chapter of what should be long England careers. The Spurs defender produced an admirable display alongside Cahill, with the task of harnessing Ibrahimovic always going to prove difficult for the young centre-half. The former Swansea man also showed awareness to follow Gerrard’s free-kick in at the far post to put the Three Lions temporarily ahead. For Liverpool’s highly-rated winger, Sterling, it was a productive night in terms of manufacturing goals. The 17-year-old, who is the fifth youngest player to play for England, threaded an incisive pass through to Ashley Young in the lead up to Danny Welbeck’s opener and won the free-kick which led to Caulker’s goal. At the other end of the spectrum, Everton talisman Leon Osman completed his first international, and while failing to make a telling impact in the 4-2 loss, the 31-year-old appears a solid option for Hodgson in the qualifying campaign if any of the manager’s first-team options are missing.