• Montenegro host England in key World Cup qualifier in March
• Manager looks to Wayne Rooney for 'top performances'
It is going to be a long time before the memory fades of a 6ft 5in and 15 stone man levering himself off the ground, twisting in the air and producing the kind of rare and authentic brilliance that, as Sweden's manager Erik Hamren said, would usually be found only on a computer game.
Yet, for England, perhaps the most significant event had nothing to do with the reasons why Zlatan Ibrahimovic found himself getting a mark of six in Thursday's edition of Dagens Nyheter when no other player scored higher than three and, best of all, the newspaper's rating system is actually out of five.
The damage inflicted at the Friends Arena was superficial, after all, whereas Montenegro's 3-0 victory over San Marino threatens to have more serious repercussions now it puts them two points ahead of England at the top of their World Cup qualifying group. Only one team automatically goes to Brazil in 2014 and, while most people would still assume England can regain top spot, what happened in Stockholm did serve as a reminder of the team's limitations.
England, in fairness, are hardly alone when it comes to lacking a player with Ibrahimovic's gifts. But the lack is compounded by the fact that for many years Wayne Rooney was supposed to fill this position with distinction. "We have to hope Wayne can produce these top performances," Hodgson replied when asked whether England realistically had an Ibrahimovic-type. The manager mentioned Steven Gerrard in the same sentence and, curiously, Michael Carrick. Twice, in fact. When it was pointed out he was not the first England manager to say this of Rooney, and that it had never worked out that way since Euro 2004, Hodgson cited Daniel Welbeck. His dedication to his players is unwavering, but it did not sound terribly convincing.
The reality is that England just do not have a great amount of stardust these days and compensate by relying on structure, organisation and hard work. Wilfried Zaha and Raheem Sterling are exciting young players but these are the very early stages of their emergence. They have an awfully long way to go and it was a silly stunt by Crystal Palace's shirt sponsors to flash up the slogan "He's just too good for you" on the perimeter boards after Zaha came on for the final six minutes. Zaha will get enough hype without the people around him adding to it before he has barely kicked a ball at this level.
As it was, it was another player whose name starts with Z who was too good for everyone. "A world-class player," Hodgson said of Ibrahimovic. "He's shown that with every club where he's played. You don't win championships with Barcelona, Inter, Milan and Juventus unless you're something special."
The consolation for England is that there are no opponents of this calibre in their qualifying group. Take out the Ibrahimovic factor and Hodgson could actually reflect with "a certain degree of optimism", encouraged by the performances of the three debutants who started the match. Sterling, he said, had had a "golden period" either side of half-time. There was praise, too, for Steven Caulker, even if Hodgson balanced it by saying he also wanted to look closely at the fit-again Chris Smalling. Leon Osman was described as "surprisingly good", which was probably meant to sound more complimentary than it actually did.
Asked whether the Everton player would get another chance in the February friendly against Brazil, Hodgson initially said "yeah", but then corrected himself. "To be honest, I can't make guarantees but one thing's for sure: I believed in him, I gave him a chance and he took the chance. He's certainly a name we will be discussing very seriously."
By then, Hodgson must hope Joe Hart has returned to the form that created legitimate debate last season about whether he could be acclaimed as the best goalkeeper in Europe. Too cocky? That was Roy Keane's assertion earlier in the season and, though it is a divisive opinion, he is not entirely alone within the sport for thinking this way. Hart has certainly become a lot less approachable and there are various reports of people being in his company and feeling disappointed by a discernible change in his nature.
All the same, his mistakes in Sweden amounted to a rare off-day, albeit coming after he was partly responsible when Caulker scored for Tottenham Hotspur against Manchester City last Sunday. Hart has produced some reasonable performances this season, and an excellent one against Borussia Dortmund, but this has been pockmarked by some uncharacteristic lapses. For now, however, it is a blip rather than a slump. "We're not bothered about Joe Hart," Hodgson said.
The manager has other issues as he tries to whittle down the numbers – 44 players used in six months – ahead of England's first assignments of 2013. The period of experimentation will not be in operation so much against Brazil at Wembley on 6 February. After that, England's next qualifying match is in San Marino on 22 March, but it is the date with Montenegro in Podgorica four days later that should be circled in red on Hodgson's calendar.
10 games Lescott, Milner, Gerrard, Hart, Welbeck,
9 Oxlade-Chamberlain, G Johnson
8 Walcott, Young
6 Parker, Terry, Carroll, A Cole, Defoe, Jagielka, Baines, Cleverley
4 Henderson, Carrick, Cahill
2 A Johnson, Bertrand, Walker
1 Green, Jones, Downing, Barry, Kelly, Butland, Ruddy, Livermore, Sturridge, Lennon, Shelvey, Caulker, Sterling, Osman, Wilshere, Jenkinson, Shawcross, Huddlestone, Zaha
• This article was amended on 16 November 2012 because the original referred to England's "date with Macedonia in Podgorica".