now and again there is a performance in International football that is
so outstanding that you have to take your hat off to it.
On this night in
Stockholm it was
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, so often a poor performer against
this time gave one of the best displays of his life.
He scored all four goals for his country, one
of which will be remembered for as long as the game is played.
How appropriate that one of the best players
to come out of Sweden
should be the star of a match to open a brand new stadium in the
To be fair England
had a very weak side out, but having said that Roy Hodgson was able to
blood several young players and give them the chance to make their
debuts, and by and large they all did well.
Indeed for 70 minutes they held the upper hand, but the bane of
'Friendly Internationals', the substitutions, in the end cost England
their unbeaten run.
The start of the game was a bit ragged but as the
players settled it was England
that looked the more assured outfit.
The pace of the game was high tempo and
England's passing and movement looked
good at times. Leon Osman
looked very comfortable in midfield and with Steven Gerrard and Tom
Cleverley also working well, the midfield looked strong.
This was a very special night for Gerrard as the skipper made
his 100th appearance for his country to join a select band
who had reached that particular milestone.
After seven minutes it was Osman who had the
first real shot, which was saved by Andreas Isaksson, and the
goalkeeper then blocked Gary Cahill's deflection after Gerrard's fine
free-kick should have been converted.
A minute later and Sweden
had their first shot as Kim Kallstrom shot wide.
At this stage England
were on top and a goal was needed to emphasise that.
On 19 minutes we got one, but it was at the other end.
Poor defensive play by England
allowed Ibrahimovic to steal on to a left-wing cross.
Steven Caulker blocked the first shot but as the rebound fell
kindly for the Swede he was able to toe-poke home past Joe Hart.
The goal had come against the run of play and earlier in the
build-up it seemed that Raheem Sterling had been fouled, but the ref
waved play on.
England picked themselves up well though, and
continued to play good football.
Sterling, growing in confidence as the game went on, broke away
and he, Danny Welbeck and Glen Johnson combined, before the latter's
cross was missed by Cleverley when it seemed he must score.
A short spell of Swedish pressure produced a few shots at goal,
none of which tested Hart, but a terrible mix up between Hart and
Cahill almost gifted Mathias Ranegie a goal but the number 11
thankfully shot over. That
was a let-off for England but they then came storming back and on 35
minutes scored a deserved equaliser.
Osman intercepted a Swedish pass and sent Sterling away, the
Liverpool winger then found Ashley Young with a superb through pass.
Young beat his marker and sent over an inviting cross that was
swept home by the incoming Welbeck.
Two minutes later and the game was turned on its head.
Gerrard's superb free-kick found Caulker at the far post and he
scored a fine goal on debut with a close range shot.
The defender then made a great block to stop Ibrahimovic and
England held on to the lead until the break.
At half-time I noted that there were probably
more goals to come and how right that proved to be.
But it was England who started the second-half the brightest
and to be honest they were very unlucky not to add to their lead.
Leighton Baines sent in one great cross that both Welbeck and
Osman almost converted, and then Gerrard saw a good shot blocked.
Isacksson turned an Osman shot around a post after a quick
free-kick by Gerrard again, and then the skipper was only prevented
from scoring on his 100th appearance by Isacksson's ungainly stop.
At this stage England were well on top, and Cleverley, Osman
and Gerrard were dominating the midfield.
But always there was Ibrahimovich, and he was a
constant threat and almost scored again after another mistake by Hart.
On 64 minutes the striker shot wide when he had more time and
space than he realised, and that was a warning that England did not
heed. Hodgson brought on
Daniel Sturridge and Jack Wilshere for Young and Cleverley, and
Wilshere was soon setting up another shot for Gerrard.
Andreas Grandqvist was the first player to be booked and not
before time, as he had continually fouled the England players since
the first whistle. But
then, on 75 minutes, came the turning point of the match.
Hodgson, trying hard to honour obvious promises
to club managers took off Gerrard, Johnson and Caulker, with Ryan
Shawcross, Tom Huddlestone and Carl Jenkinson coming on.
Shawcross and Jenkinson were making their debuts for England.
Within three minutes Sweden had equalised.
A long ball over the defence by Anders Svensson saw Ibrahimovic
get the wrong side of Shawcross, who was still trying to find his
feet. The finish of the
Swede was emphatic and the balance of the game suddenly shifted again.
England did still threaten, and with both
defences being shaky throughout the night, more chances came and went,
with Osman so nearly capping a terrific first international with
another good shot which was saved.
On 84 minutes though the match finally swung decisively
Sweden's way and it was that man Ibrahimovic yet again.
The home team were awarded a free-kick at least 35 yards from
goal and the big striker had only one thing on his mind.
His fierce low shot found the
bottom corner of the net, with the wall and the goalkeeper found
wanting, and the striker celebrating a hat-trick.
From a defensive point of view it was a poor goal, but it was
Ibrahimovic's night and the best was yet to come from him.
England pushed hard to try and find another
equaliser, and in one good move Sturridge, Osman and Baines worked the
ball down the left, with only the final pass ruining the chance.
was almost the last attack by England and with one of the four extra
minutes gone Ibrahimovic produced a moment of sheer magic.
A pass was lobbed forward and with the defenders hesitating Joe
Hart decided to come out of his area to head clear.
Unfortunately he never found much purchase on his header and
the ball looped up behind Ibrahimovic.
The striker didn't hesitate and launched into the most amazing
overhead kick from around 25 yards out, to somehow steer the ball over
everyone and into the net.
It was an incredible goal and a fitting finale to a very good game,
and it certainly opened the stadium in style.
A final substitution saw Wilfried Zaha come on
for his debut, replacing Sterling, and in the end there were quite a
few positives for England.
However, there was no doubt that when the substitutions were made by
Hodgson it had a dire effect, not only on England's play, but also the
result too. All credit to
Baines, Osman, Cleverley, Welbeck, Caulker and Sterling though for
excellent performances, and there was a nice little cameo from
Wilshere in the closing stages.
And finally, many, many congratulations to Steven Gerrard, who
not only reached that superb century of appearances, but was also England's
best player on the night.