Friday, November 16, 2012
A visit to Stockholm for the opening of the Friends Arena and a friendly international.
Sweden 4 England 2 49,967 (1,800 away)
History Man Zlatan.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic that is, the first man to score four goals against England after some 140 years of international games.
Better than Van Basten, Puskas, Alex Jackson and all the others.
And he did it by scoring some great goals culminating in a spectacular overhead kick in the closing minutes.
I’d flown in on the Wednesday morning to Arlanda, taken the train to the centre and out again to my hotel in one of the suburbs (booked some time ago to get a decent price)
There was enough time time to have a kebab and a chat to some of the locals who, as always, were well versed in the England personnel.
The new arena is a ten minute stroll from Solna station near a business park area with the
immediate surroundings being partly under-development.
Inside it was very cosy watching the game in the fully enclosed three-tiered stadium and even outside it was 7 degrees with light rain, which is not bad for Stockholm in mid-November.
This match gave opportunities for a number of new England players to make their debuts - some older (Osman), some much younger (Sterling, Caulker, Zaha)
Both sides would make mistakes in defence with the England centre back area being particularly vulnerable contributing to the uncertainty displayed by goalie Joe Hart.
At least Caulker could atone for some of his lapses by poking home a Gerrard cross to give England a 2-1 lead.
Trickery by Ashley Young and a great cross, converted by Welbeck, had allowed England to equalise Ibrahimovic’s first goal. And for a time we seemed in reasonable control of the match.
Sterling was given the compliment of being regularly fouled by the Swedish defenders and Osman looked sharp and lively.
Baines at left back continued to look the part, especially when going forward and Steven Gerrard celebrated his hundredth cap by (finally) looking imperious as he sprayed passes and superb crosses about the pitch.
But as it turned out the inevitable second half substitutions caused too much disruption and the Swedes, fresh from retrieving a 4-0 deficit to the Germans, profited.
Ibrahimovic escaped Shawcross for his second, drove a free-kick into the corner for his hat-trick and then acrobatically volleyed in a Hart headed clearance to finally get the Swedish fans excited.
His final goal has been compared to some of the greatest ever and it is certainly amongst the best I’ve witnessed.
But not (for me) as good as Maradona against England in 1986 where the context was much more significant and the brilliance more sustained. Or Saeed Owairan for Saudi Arabia v Belgium.
So England have completed their fixtures for 2012 with looming worries about the defence tempered by the emergence of some exciting young talent.
Somehow coach Roy Hodgson will have to find the right blend whilst having the team for only short periods of the year and enduring the consistent media pressure.
My budget only allowed for wine gums in the stadium and a couple of beers back at my hotel.
And time to reflect on what turned out to be an historic night in the Swedish capital.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1568425697