Thursday, 15 November 2012

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) 4 England 2

These are surreal times to be a Swedish fan. As if drawing 4-4 in Germany after being 4 goals down wasn't impressive enough, the Swedes then open their new Friends Arena stadium with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring 4 goals to help defeat England almost on his own. No one comes back from 4-0 down against the Germans, no one had ever scored 4 times in a match against England. The Swedes have changed all that within a month.

As well as the opening of the new stadium in Stockholm, it was a night when Liverpool's Steven Gerrard won his 100th England cap. It was fitting then that a historic occasion was matched by a performance of outstanding quality by one of football's most gifted, but enigmatic, players, Paris Saint-German striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

England were 2-1 ahead in this game, and were looking set to secure their first win in the Swedish capital since the 1930s, but Ibrahimovic had other ideas. A triple substitution by Roy Hodgson unsettled England, and Ibrahimovic took full advantage to score three stunning goals in the last 15 minutes. It was to be Hodgson's first taste of defeat as England manager.

Ibrahimovic, appropriately enough, scored the first goal in the Friends Arena after 20 minutes, but England hit back with two quick goals by debutant Spurs defender Steven Caulker and Manchester United starlet Danny Welbeck. England looked comfortable, and good enough to close the game out.

Things changed when another debutant (there were 6 England debutants in all), substitute Ryan Shawcross, didn't pick up Ibrahimovic's run on 77 minutes, and the Swedish captain lashed the ball past Joe Hart. Two greater goals were to come, as Ibrahimovic rifled in a free kick past Hart diving to his left on 84 minutes to complete his hat-trick (it was the first hat-trick scored against England since Marco van Basten for Holland in 1988). Then came the best of all, as Manchester City 'keeper Hart rushed out of his area to head the ball away, only for the ball to fall to Ibrahimovic. Never a player lacking in confidence, Ibrahimovic swivelled to score with what is being called both a scissor kick and a propeller kick. Even attempting it seemed ridiculous. To pull it off was football magic.

It was such a special goal that people can't even decide what it was. Even England fans applauded. England fans applauding an opposing player? Now you know it was a special goal, and from a special player. Ibrahimovic has always talked a good game, and often not backed it up. Last night he did to such an extent, that if his performance had been in a World Cup finals, it would have been ranked right up there with the best we've ever seen. The new Swedish stadium may already have hosted its best ever performance.

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