Ibrahimovic's fantastic four spoils Hodgson’s unbeaten start
Sweden 4 England 2
One centurion, six debutants and England’s fifth-youngest player of all time - but it was Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who scored four to wreck Roy Hodgson’s unbeaten start as manager.
When skipper Steven Gerrard exited the Friends Arena 17 minutes from the end of this Stockholm friendly, the visitors were feeling rather pleased with themselves.
Goals from Danny Welbeck and Steven Caulker had overturned an early deficit, Raheem Sterling for one had impressed and others were preparing for the start of their international careers.
But Ibrahimovic had a nasty surprise in store.
Capitalising on Ryan Shawcross switching off, Ibrahimovic rammed home a leveller, before finding the bottom corner with a precise free-kick six minutes from time.
And the coup-de-grace came in stoppage time when, he moved onto a wayward clearing header from Joe Hart, he sent an overhead kick sailing into an empty net from fully 25 yards.
Never again will he hear the phrase ’never does it against English teams’.
It deflated a growing air of optimism around the England camp, and ensured Gerrard’s landmark night, and all those debuts, including one from Wilfried Zaha, will not be remembered with any real fondness.
Sweden’s new national stadium may look magnificent from the outside, or at least it will when it is actually completed, inside though, there was a major problem.
Laid two days ago under a sliding roof that, unlike in Poland last month, was actually closed, the playing surface was simply not up to the job.
Massive divots came up at regular intervals and if they were at home, concerned Premier League bosses must have felt like watching through splayed fingers.
With the home supporters watching in respectful silence compared to the din they made in Kiev when the teams met at Euro 2012, it made for a surreal occasion, which only came to life when Ibrahimovic broke the deadlock.
Sweden’s talisman had settled a few scores earlier this year, when he belted home a hat-trick that helped turf Arsenal out of the Champions League.
Even after his opener, no-one could have guessed he was about to eclipse it.
After Jonas Olsson had robbed Sterling and then kept going to take a return pass down the left of England’s penalty area, Ibrahimovic was quick enough to recover when Caulker blocked his initial effort, prodding the rebound past Joe Hart.
Had Mathias Ranegie not skied Ibrahimovic’s lay-off over after Gary Cahill had got in Hart’s way to prevent the England keeper making a routine catch, such a significant evening for the Three Lions might have turned into a distinctly deflating experience.
Instead, the visitors profited from their escape.
Warming to his task after a slow start to his international career, Sterling spread the ball wide to Ashley Young.
The Manchester United winger delivered a peach of a cross right into the heart of Sweden’s six-yard area and Welbeck was on hand to finish.
It was not in the same class as his brilliant match-winner in Kiev, but it was his fifth goal of an incredible calendar year.
Three minutes later, England were ahead.
How many times during his illustrious career has Gerrard sent a sumptuous curling free-kick curling into enemy territory.
Caulker read it perfectly. England’s most experienced player claiming an assist for one of their most inexperienced. How Caulker loved the moment.
Another hesitant moment from Hart apart, there was little else to talk about until Jack Wilshere was introduced just after the hour.
It was the Arsenal midfielder’s first England appearance in 17 months and it was not long before he was planted on his backside by Andreas Granqvist, who was booked for his challenge from behind.
Happily, Wilshere bounced straight back up, ready to get stuck in once more.
Wilshere has already proved his worth at this level.
Nobody should ever doubt it is a step up though. Shawcross had only been on the pitch for a matter of minutes when Ibrahimovic exposed a momentary lapse in concentration, and belted his second of the evening past Hart.
It was only the start. A hat-trick was completed with a brilliant free-kick, a fourth in jaw-dropping manner as Hart blundered once more.
Hodgson, 11 matches unbeaten – penalty shoot-outs excepted – will not sleep soundly during his winter hibernation.