STOCKHOLM (AFP) – Zlatan Ibrahimovic drew praise from every corner after he scored all four goals — including a jaw-dropping long-range bicycle kick — in Sweden’s 4-2 friendly win over England
Ibrahimovic’s 20th-minute opener on Wednesday made him the first player to score at Stockholm’s Friends Arena, but England threatened to spoil the party by pulling ahead through Danny Welbeck and Steven Caulker.
Unfortunately for Roy Hodgon’s side, it proved nothing but the cue for Ibrahimovic to take matters into his own hands.
After chesting down Anders Svensson’s pass and volleying home a 77th-minute equaliser, he put Sweden ahead with a 30-yard free-kick and then served up the piece de resistance with an extraordinary fourth goal in injury time.
England goalkeeper Joe Hart was drawn from his goal by a long ball but he could not get enough distance on his clearing header and Ibrahimovic capitalised to send an incredible bicycle kick into the unguarded net from 25 yards.
“When I got the long ball, I saw the goalkeeper come out, and I thought, ‘Should I go in for the duel, or wait for him to put it out?’” the Sweden captain told reporters.
“When he put it out, I had it in my mind to score — to try to score. I tried to put it in the goal and when I was on the ground, I saw a defender trying to get it, but it went in.”
Ibrahimovic did not regard it as his best performance for Sweden, however.
“I think I’ve done many, many great games,” said the Paris Saint-Germain striker.
“It was important to play a good game in the new arena. But if you ask me which goal I liked most, I’d say the first goal, because it was a historic goal — the first goal in the new arena.”
Ibrahimovic’s performance overshadowed Steven Gerrard’s 100th England appearance, but the Liverpool midfielder could not help but admire the Sweden striker’s display.
“I have been playing football a long time but Zlatan’s fourth goal is probably the best goal I have seen live,” he told BBC radio.
“I cannot pay a bigger tribute than that.”
Sweden coach Erik Hamren said that Ibrahimovic’s fourth goal was “not possible”, and went on to laud his match-winner for his maturity as a captain.
“He’s been really, really good,” said Hamren.
“Especially with the young guys — he was their hero when they were growing up, and now they’re sitting beside him.
“Yesterday (Tuesday), after lunch, I saw him sitting with the three least experienced players; sitting and talking with them.
“And they were eating his words, listening so intently. It was really good.”
Despite tasting defeat over 90 minutes for the first time in his tenure as England coach, Hodgson expressed satisfaction with the performances of his six debutants.
Caulker, Leon Osman and 17-year-old Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling started the game, with Carl Jenkinson, Ryan Shawcross and Wilfried Zaha all entering the fray in the second half.
Hodgson reserved special praise for Sterling, saying he got “better and better”, and describing him as “a young man for the future”.
He also defended Hart after an uncharacteristically uncertain performance from the Manchester City goalkeeper.
“These things happen,” Hodgson said.
“The third goal got a slight deflection. On the fourth one, he got an unpleasant bounce — the ball really pitched up and he couldn’t get any purchase on the header — and it led to Zlatan scoring his acrobatic goal.
“But we’re not worried about Joe Hart. He’s a very good goalkeeper. Tonight (Wednesday) wasn’t one of his absolute best days, but this happens in football.
“Some of the other senior players had a great game. Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Leighton Baines — they all played exceptionally well.”