Just when the England fans started ironically serenading the pony-tailed Zlatan Ibrahimovic with "you're just a ---- Andy Carroll", the Swedish forward moved up a gear, adding to his first-half goal with three late gems, including a strike that defied geometry let alone belief.
Could this be the greatest goal ever?
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Could this be the greatest goal ever?
Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic seemingly defied gravity with this overhead kick to seal the game against England.
Ibrahimovic's first was a poacher's finish, his second an emphatic shot, his third a 30-yard free-kick. England had not conceded a hat-trick since the marvelous Marco van Basten gave Tony Adams nightmares in 1988. It needed something special to go one step beyond that and Ibrahimovic delivered in spectacular style.
It was his fourth goal that will linger long in the memory, that will be saluted around the world. He was out on the right, Joe Hart's poor clearance dropping towards him. Hart, a bag of nerves in the second half, was off his line but the angle was still ludicrously tight.
It needed technique, imagination and a sense of outrageous boldness to attempt what Ibrahimovic did, sending the ball back in with a sensational overhead kick. A beautiful goal capped a brutal end to the friendly for England, a first defeat for Roy Hodgson. With Steven Gerrard on the pitch, England played with urgency and there were moments of promise from Raheem Sterling, Steven Caulker and Leon Osman, but Gerrard's withdrawal removed organization and resilience and Ibrahimovic pounced and pounced and pounced.
After a surreal opening ceremony involving knights from a Monty Python sketch, a fake kick-off involving Ibrahimovic and two verses of the National Anthem that totally foxed Welbeck, Caulker and the rest of Hodgson's players, England had needed an uncertain half-hour before they finally got going. In that time, the visitors conceded to Ibrahimovic and it could have been worse such was the nervous nature of their defending.
Ibrahimovic struck after 20 minutes, injecting some life into a subdued, overly respectful home crowd. England were authors of their own demise, an ill-judged pass in from Glen Johnson placing Sterling under pressure. Sterling is a significant prospect but he can get dispossessed frequently, although Johnson had sold his Liverpool team-mate short.
Sweden had hardly been in a welcoming mood to Sterling, buffeting him with some robust tackles. Sterling was robbed of the ball and Martin Olsson stormed upfield, flying into space vacated by Johnson. Caulker managed to block Ibrahimovic's first shot but the Paris St-Germain striker made no mistake with his second attempt, stabbing it powerfully past Joe Hart.
England were struggling, disappointing for half an hour, looking about as likely to knit together as the Friends Arena's newly-laid pitch. Cleverley even replaced a large divot at one point. One pass from Sterling hit a bobble and bounced apologetically up. Yet England responded.
Gerrard took responsibility, urging the team on. Stitched into his boots were the words "Sweden v England; 14-11-2012, 100 Caps" and he used those boots to good effect, sweeping balls up field, whether still or moving. Surrounded by so many youngsters, Gerrard played the head-teacher on a school trip, organising and educating. Another Liverpool player was beginning to pick up the pace. Sterling was soon running at the Swedes, showing his promise by beating Kim Kallstrom before finding Welbeck. The United forward worked the ball to Johnson, whose low shot was almost turned in by Tom Cleverley. Close.
England still had a couple of tricky moments to negotiate before they could rearrange the scoreboard. Mathias Ranegie, the Udinese striker, twice wasted chances to extend Sweden's lead, shooting wide and then over after defensive mix-ups.
England were building, particularly through Sterling. With 10 minutes remaining before the break, the teenager showed his ability to thread a pass, picking out Young with a fine pass from right to left. Young darted at Seb Larsson, deceiving him with a step-over and racing on.
Larsson failed to chase back but Young was long gone anyway, crossing left-footed for his United team-mate Welbeck to equalise from close range. Lightning struck twice. Again Sterling was the catalyst, earning a free-kick that Gerrard took charge of. England's captain swept the ball into the box and there was Caulker sliding it past goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson. It was a special moment for the Spurs defender on his international debut.
Some of the English game's most eminent names from Stan Mortensen to Gerrard, Alan Ball to Alan Shearer, let alone the knights of the realm Tom Finney and Bobby Charlton, have scored against Sweden so Caulker was now moving in distinguished company. Moments after scoring, the Spurs 20-year-old demonstrated the defensive side of his game, managing to block an Ibrahimovic shot. England continued to apply the pressure after the break. Osman, neat and nimble, made a little run, cutting the ball back to Gerrard, whose shot cannoned off Jonas Olsson for a corner. Gerrard then returned the compliment, sliding the ball through to Osman, whose low shot was pushed behind by Isaksson.
Hodgson began to ring the changes, sending on Jack Wilshere to partner Gerrard while Daniel Sturridge took over the front-running duties as Welbeck went left. Wilshere was immediately involved, nodding the ball down on the edge of his box, guiding it forward, his journey towards Sweden's half stopped illegally by Andreas Granqvist. Ryan Shawcross, Tom Huddlestone and Carl Jenkinson then arrived.
Shawcross was soon caught out. Anders Svensson drilled a long pass forward, Ibrahimovic eluded Shawcross with ease and thundered the ball past Hart. It was poor defending by Shawcross.
Hart was hardly covering himself with glory. Moments later, Ibrahimovic unleashed a 30-yard free-kick that totally bamboozled Hart. England were deflated, their fans falling silent. Zaha, wooed by England and the Ivory Coast, charged on, wearing boots with the cross of St George's on them.
There was more in Sweden's new home. Goals pay the rent and Ibrahimovic certainly chipped in with the overheads last night.
The Daily Telegraph, London