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Zlatan sparkles to sink England

ESPN staff
November 14, 2012
Zlatan Ibrahimovic fires in a free kick © Getty Images

Roy Hodgson suffered his first defeat as England manager as Zlatan Ibrahimovic netted four goals in a 4-2 friendly win for Sweden in Stockholm.

In a game that featured six England debutants and Steven Gerrard making his 100th appearance, the Three Lions overcame a slovenly start that saw them fall behind to take the lead through Danny Welbeck and Steven Caulker. However, Ibrahimovic proved his class with a brilliant second 15 minutes from time, added a third with a long-range free-kick and capped his day with a quite amazing fourth.

Ibrahimovic is Sweden's star man and he showed exactly why he has commanded £150m in transfer fees with a predatory finish to put the home side in front. After Raheem Sterling had been robbed of possession, the ball landed at Ibrahimovic's feet eight yards from goal and after his initial effort had been blocked, he stuck out a toe to poke the ball beyond Joe Hart.

England passed up a great chance to level when Tom Cleverley, taking up an excellent advanced position, failed to turn Glen Johnson's cross-shot on target.

Sweden continued to probe and should have doubled their lead on 32 minutes following some sloppy defending from England, but Mathia Ranegie somehow fired over the bar with the goal gaping.

It was a chance Sweden were made to rue as England drew level on 35 minutes. A slick move saw Sterling find Ashley Young down the left and he beat his man before delivering a superb cross into the box for Welbeck to volley home.

Within three minutes England were ahead, with a man on his 100th appearance creating for a man on debut. Gerrard served notice of his delivery early in the match and a carbon copy saw him fire a gorgeous ball at pace to the back post for Caulker to bundle home from five yards.

Gerrard failed to cap his milestone appearance with a goal, but it was not for the want of trying as he chanced his arm on a number of occasions from long range. The closest he came was when forcing Isaksson to plunge to his left to keep out a swerving effort.

England made a host of changes in the final 20 minutes and Ryan Shawcross was given a harsh lesson in international football as Ibrahimovic lost him all too easily before collecting a pass on his chest and volleying home to draw Sweden level.

Ibrahimovic has time and again carried his country and he put them in front with a goal that England keeper Joe Hart may think he should have done better with. Ibrahimovic let fly from fully 35 yards. He struck the free kick well, but it appeared Hart was slow in getting across and the ball flew into the bottom corner.

Ibrahimovic saved the best for last, with a quite extraordiary overhead kick in injury-time. Hart raced out to clear his lines but as his header went up in the air, Ibrahimovic retreated and executed an overhead kick from 35 yards that found the target. It was a goal deserving of an amazing ovation but booes followed shortly after as he was booked for taking off his shirt in celebration.

Aside from the loss on penalties to Italy, it was Hodgson's first defeat in charge of the national side. He will have had half an eye on events in Montenegro who were up against San Marino in World Cup qualifying. There was no shock, as Andrija Delibasic scored twice in a 3-0 win - a result that takes them ahead of England and top of Group H.

Jordan Rhodes hit a first-half double as an attack-minded Scotland side began life after Craig Levein with a narrow 2-1 friendly victory in Luxembourg.

Rhodes, who scored a hat-trick for Scotland Under-21s on his previous trip to the Stade Josy Barthel, headed home from close range on 10 minutes and then slotted a simple second. However, Scotland failed to build on their lead and survived some nervous moments after Lars Gerson's well-placed free-kick brought Luxembourg back into the game 90 seconds after the break.

David Healy netted a last-minute free-kick for Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifying, but it was only good enough for a point against Azerbaijan.

It was also a poor night for Republic of Ireland, as they were beaten 1-0 by Greece in a friendly in Dublin.

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