It was 'Zlatan Ibrahimovic 4 England 2' as Sweden opened up Stockholm's Friends Arena with an international friendly win over an experimental England side.
After opening the scoring on 20 minutes and going down as the first man to score a goal at the 54,329-seater stadium in the Swedish capital, Paris Saint-Germain striker Ibrahimovic wrote more history in the second half after goals from Danny Welbeck and debutant Steven Caulker in a three-minute spell put England ahead at the interval.
A quality chested-down volley restored parity 13 minutes from time before a driven low free-kick on 84 and an unreal 25-yard overhead kick in stoppage time ensured that the headlines would be all about the often-polarising captain rather than England's 100-cap skipper Steven Gerrard or the host of new faces introduced by Roy Hodgson.
But though the defeat was the visiting manager's first in 90 minutes since taking the reins earlier this year, there were plenty of positives to take from Leon Osman, Caulker and Raheem Sterling as well as some promising possession throughout.
Hodgson handed starts to three debutants in Tottenham defender Caulker, Liverpool’s teenage star Sterling and 31-year-old Everton midfielder Osman in an experimental line-up for the Friends Arena’s inaugural football contest.
And despite the unfamiliar set-up, the visitors settled into the contest fairly quickly courtesy of the midfield trio of Osman, Tom Cleverley and milestone man Gerrard.
But for all their possession and stylish advances, England were unable to create anything serious in the opening 20 minutes and would in fact fall behind.
Losing out to a crunching challenge from Martin Olsson, Sterling could only pick himself up and watch Olsson accompany Mathias Ranegie on a counter-attack which culminated in the Blackburn defender picking out Ibrahimovic with his cross.
The Swedish skipper toe-poked the ball into the roof of Joe Hart’s net at the second attempt to become a very apt first goalscorer at the new stadium.
With their heads up following the goal, the hosts went in search of 2-0 but wasted their biggest opportunity on 31 minutes.
Hart’s long night in goal for the away side began here, as a mix-up with Gary Cahill saw both players leave a ball which arrived in the England danger zone allowing Alex Kacaniklic to steal possession in a dangerous area only for Ranegie to somehow fire over with the goal at his mercy.
And four minutes later, the constant threat of an England goal finally clicked as Ashley Young found the space to produce a killer cross into the six yard box, which Welbeck raced to meet with an outstretched leg from close range to level.
With the home side still reeling from the events of the preceding five minutes, England struck again seven from half-time when Gerrard sent a free-kick from 35 yards right to the far post, where 20-year-old Caulker turned the score around and marked his national bow in some style.
Caulker’s performance was memorable for more than just his goal: the centre-back more than held his own against the experienced and dangerous Ibrahimovic, making a number of crucial interceptions on the PSG man up until his withdrawal on 73 minutes for fellow debutant Ryan Shawcross.
It was not much of a coincidence, then, when the striker single-handedly won the game with a 15-minute blitz shortly after Caulker’s exit.
Pulling down Sweden sub Anders Svensson’s lofted forward pass onto his chest, Ibrahimovic equalised with a venomous volley in one fluid motion on 77.
And seven minutes later, a fairly rangy free-kick would possibly have also been sent forward by Svensson had his compatriot not been on a hat-trick – a treble which he duly attained direct from the set-piece with a low drive, thanks in part to the static Hart.
Unfortunately for Hart and England, who also handed first caps from the bench to Carl Jenkinson and Wilfried Zaha in the closing stages, Ibrahimovic was not done.
The Three Lions keeper rushed out of the penalty area to head a raking ball forward away from danger, but only tamely headed it into the path of the imperious forward.
With his back to goal and the ball on the bounce, Ibrahimovic launched an audacious 25-yard overhead kick which looped majestically into the open net despite Cahill’s last-ditch efforts on the line.
Meanwhile, in the England dugout, unused replacement Fraser Forster – a hero for Celtic in their Champions League win over Barcelona – no doubt wondered why he did not get to join his fellow new faces in gaining some international pitch time.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Sweden: There were a few top-notch performances on the night, but nothing on the level of the four-goal monster. Goals one and three were good. Goal two was great. Goal four was insane. One of Europe's most polarising players left no doubts about his quality this time around.
Sweden: Isaksson 7, Lustig 6, Granqvist 6, Jonas Olsson 7, Martin Olsson 7, Elm 5, Kallstrom 5, Larsson 6, Kacaniklic 7, Ibrahimovic 10, Ranegie 6. Subs: Svensson 7, Jansson n/a, Sana 5, Antonsson 6, Wenbloom n/a, Safari 7.
England: Hart 4; Johnson 6, Cahill 6, Caulker 8, Baines 8; Gerrard 7, Osman 8; Sterling 7, Cleverley 8, Young 6; Welbeck 7. Subs: Jenkinson 6, Shawcross 5, Wilshere 5, Huddlestone 6, Zaha n/a, Sturridge 6.
- Sports & Recreation
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Steven Caulker