Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored four goals, including an audacious overhead kick to finish off England's chances against Sweden
There were positives in that display from England, primarily the performance of Osman and Welbeck, but there's no doubt that Ibrahimovich stole the show with a heist of pure class (aided and abetted by rank incompetence from Hart, it must be said).
You've never seen anything like this! Hart goofed again but delightful ingenuity was still required to put the ball into the net and that's exactly what Ibrahiumovich provided. Hart lumbered out of his goal in a bid to head clear but it was a weak header and Ibrahimovich executedsomething that 99.9% of players wouldn't even have thought of, performing a preposterous overheaded kick to lob the ball into the net from 30 yards! I believe that's how you say "shut up England" in Swedish, or at least in Zlatanspeak.
Welbeck and Osman try to wriggle their way through again but Sweden defend well and scramble it away. "Is this further confirmation that Ibrahimovic only performs against poor teams?" wonders Joe Cavanagh.
Wilshere booked for clumping into Ibrahimovich. That was in no way predictable.
Here's Zaha, on for Sterling.
Ibrahimovic has a hat-trick! And Hart has another assist! Feeble goalkeepeing allowed the excellent Sweden to find the net with a low 25-yard freekick. He struck it quite hard and into the corner but Hart was bizarrely slow to react. Still, hats off to Ibrahimovich for a marking the inauguration of a new national stadium with three goals.
Decent riposte from England, with Huddlestone and Welbeck combining well before Osman once again shows dextrous feet to create room for a shot. The keeper saves his low drive from 18 yards.
Shawcross didn't look too clever there as he lost track of Ibrahimovich, who took down a Svensson pass on his chest and volleyed past hapless Hart.
So, is Hodgson going to throw on Zaha for a couple of seconds.
Caulker, Johnson and Gerrard off, reinforcements arrives in the shape of Shawcross, Jenkinson and Huddlestone. The enduring popularity of Liverpool in Scandinavia is evidenced by the loud applause for the departing Johnson and Liverpool.
Caulker nuts a corner clear, Elm collects it and sends it to a photographer seated 20 yards to the right of the goal.
Osman, who has been very impressive tonight, breaks up a Sweden attack and instigates an England counter, which comes to nought. Sweden are having most of the play now and Hodgson is readying replacements.
Hart catches the ball! Yes, really! It was at a comfortable height and there was no one near him but still, this is progress! In other news, here's a hot gallery of tonight's steamy international action.
Johnson breaks down the right and crosses. It's nodded out of the box as far as Gerrard, who thunders a volley wide.
Sly dummy by Ibrahimovich to let the ball run wide to Lustig, who lowers the lone by ballooning the ball.
Larsson clips a ball through to Ibrahimovic, who has a clear run at goal but decides to let fly from 20 yards ... and bogs the ball miles wide.
Sweden starting to build some pressure. Ibhraimovic just went close, but Caulker stood up to him well enough to force him to fire wide after creating shooting space.
England changes: Cleverley and Young off, Wilshere and Sturridge on.
SWeden hoik one into the box and, sure enough, Hart flaps at the ball as he challenges for it with Ranegie. It bounces down to Larsson, who tonks over from 12 yards. All-round shoddiness is what we had there.
Bam! Gerrard sends as 30-yard swirler at goal, forcing Isaksson to bat it away. If Sweden ever get within 30 yards of England's goal again they've be well advised to try something similar, what with Hart fumbling in his big clown gloves.
Osman, again showing his intelligence to find space in the box, receives another Gerrard pass, then swivels and gets off a good shot. The keeper pushes it behind for a corner. England are dominant in this half and playing with with and tidiness, not merely speed and Passion.
More nice stuff from England. Johnson did well on the right before dinking a ball into the Osman, who spun past his man in the corner of the box and pulled a good ball back to Gerrard, whose shot was blocked.
Foxy tricks by Cleverley out on the wing .... followed by a wayward pass that enables Sweden to cobble together a move that takes them into English territory for the first time in this half. It soon peters out.
After a patient build-up by England, Baines sends in a wonderful cross that Young just fails to meet.
We're back in action and, unusually, neither side has made many changes during the break. In fact, England have made none and Sweden just one: Safari coming on for a gallop.
"Thanks for making this game more amusing than it has a right to be," ingratiates Sam Tinson. "If you're after a novelty Christmas gift, how about Portsmouth FC? Lovely festive colours and dirt cheap. Sadly not football related, though."
"I`d just moved to Germany from Sweden and watched the game here in Germany," announces Julian Menz. "Blank-eyed shock best sums up the German reaction to that game. The press here slaughtered the manager and team. As for Sweden`s south coast, don`t believe Mr Schulwolf. It`s flat, pretty boring and dearer than Brighton."
"Will tonight be the night when Roy Keane finally goes Dexter Morgan on the other panellists? We all know it is coming."
"This unconditional love the media have for Joe Hart is getting very silly indeed," fumes Aidan Fitzmaurice, tarring all of the media with one brush. "A few minutes ago he made a desperate attempt to punch a ball and managed to get every aspect of it wrong.Clive Tyldesely said "Well left by the England keeper." Ugh. Imagine Heurelho Gomes had of done it."
England deserve to be in front. It hasn't been a match particularly high on quality or intensity but there have been some appealing moments in there, such as Ibrahimovich's finish, England's first goal featuring fine play by Sterling and Young, Gerrard's delivery for England's second and generally good intentions from Cleverley and others. The biggest negative has been the performance of Hart, who has put in his most error-strewn performance to date, goofing almost every time he has been called into action.
Larsson curls in a freekick. Ranegie tries to meet it but he hadn't reckoned with Cahill, who bops it clear first.
Kacaniklic cross low from the left, Ibrahimovich tries to stab it in from close range bu Caulker deflects it over. Hart makes a fool of himself while trying to punch clear the ensuing corner but is lucky to escape unpunished.
A lovely freekick delivery from Gerrard gets the finish itr deserves as 20-year-old Caulker marks his debut by bundling the ball into the net at the back post, aided, it must be said, by a farcical air-shot from would-be clearer Granqvist.
That's more like it from England! National treasure Raheem Sterling was instrumental in the move, astutely finding Young out wide. The manchester United winger fired an inviting pass across the face of goal to his team-mate Welbeck, who turned it into the net with little ado. Welbeck has now hit five shots on target in his young England career and scored with every one of them!
An England corner provokes an unseemly skirmish in the Swedish box, but it comes to an end when two England players blunder offside. "Enough of this Sterling guy, bring on Zaha!" howls Matt Giarratano. Yes, that way maybe we can write off two hot prospects in one night.
What a miss! And what a goof by England! Hart hared off his line to intercept but then seemed surprised when Cahill left it for him and by dint of their indecision England allowed the ball to squirm free. Ibrahimovic was first to it and showed the presence of mind that the Englanders lacked and slotted the ball to Ranegie, who had a free shot at goal from 12 yards (actually, there was a defender on the line, not sure who) ... but he lifted it over the bar!
Ibrahimovich blems wide from 20 yards after another percussive Sweden attack. The hosts are having less of the ball but, on the counter, are much more penetrative.
Rasegie throws himself in front of Cahill to meet a Lustig cross from the right but can't quite steer his shot on target, the eight-yard effort drifting just wide. "If you want to know what the Germans think of Sweden, you should probably ask a German," bawls Dan Schulwolf. "Alas, I am merely an American student spending a semester in Berlin. I can tell you that the south coast of Sweden is much preferable to the south coast of England, that Berlin is the coolest city in Europe, and that there was widespread consternation in the local press after the 4-4 about the openness of Löw's system."
Nearly a goal! Sterling got the move going with an avenging run and then nipped the ball through to Welbeck. He laid it back for Johnson, who sent a low cross/shot towards goal. Cleverley, surging from deep, tried to poke it into the net but just failed to connect, leaving the ball to fizz fractionally wide.
England are trying to build their way back into things but their passing is too erratic. Obviously it's all the fault of Sterling, who's clearly past his best ...
That's livened the locals up! Sterling was dispossessed near half-way and Sweden tore forward, Olsson and Rasegie combining to profit from England's openness. Ibrahimovic met a low cross from the left but his shot was blocked by Caulker. When it rebounded to him he flipped the ball superbly past Hart and into the roof of the net. A classy finish.
"Whatever the problems with the pitch in Swede's new stadium, one thing they have got right is the camera angle," coos David Wall. "It's sufficiently far enough away that you can spot where the space is and, pointlessly, call this out to the TV (in contrast to the new angle at Wembley), but you're not so far away that you can't recognise the players (like at Camp Nou)." True. Pity they haven't been able to attract much of a crowd: it looks full but surely isn't, since the only sound is a couple of guys scratching their derrieres in the stand. There'll be a much better atmosphere when the next visitors come. Iron Maiden play here next week ...
Gerrard aims for Cahill again, this time from a freekick on the left. The delivery was good and so was the Chelsea man's run ... but his finish wasn't, as he failed to connect with the ball from six yards out, allowing it to bounce into the hands of the Isaksson.
Gerrard aims for Cahill from a corner but Jonas Olsson read his intentions and nutted it clear. England regain possession ... and whack it back to Hart from the half-way line. The keeper wellies it forward and players from both sides go for it like kids jumping for gushied sweets.
Gerrard curls a pass in to Young, who attempts to take it down on the penalty spot but miscontrols. No matter, he was offside anyway.
The pace is pedestrian, and not just any pedestrian but an-elderly-lady-crossing-the-road-with-two-trolleys-of-cat-food pedestrian.
Ibrahmivich gets involved for the first time, effortlessly sliding a pass into the path of Lustig, whose cross from the right is blocked by Baines.
More dinky interplay by England, culminating with a decent effort from outside the box by Osman. He wasn't quite able to get a proper purchase on his shot due to the presence of pesky defenders but he still managed to get it on target and bring a save from the keeper.
England have settled down a bit now and are knocking the ball about well. Their first attempt to infiltrate the Swedish box comes to an end when Welbeck miscontrols a pass from Cleverley and a defender boots it into his hand. The ref awards a free out.
Early dodginess from the overrated Joe Hart, who hesitates to come for a through-ball. Cahill was more decisive and scampered across to welly it clear before Ranegie could pounce. The centreback then clattered into Hart, meaning he cleared danger and woke up his keeper in one smart intervention.
Gleaming new stadium, traditional start: Sweden launch the game with a textbook kick-off.
Enough about England, what do the Germans think of Sweden? "Having attended the 4-4 in Berlin, I'm still truly puzzled what to make of this Sweden side," frets Daniel Schulwolf. "They were utterly outclassed for 45 minutes, before the Germans seemed to not so much take their foot off the gas but rather slam on the breaks. Then again, comparing that nights mediocre German squad with the mighty lions of England and their fearless leader, Steven Gerard, would be rather foolish indeed. I think Sweden would be very pleased to hold their illustrious opponents to a draw, but I sense a 5-1 thrashing for Hodgson's entertainers."
... what do the Swedes think about England? "Rpy's just been interviewed on Swedish TV and he did the interview in Swedish too!" gasps Jeremy Halpin. "Great stuff. Referred to by the studio commentary team as 'a true gentleman'. That's Roy. Winning hearts and minds one friendly at a time." But can he win matches, Jeremy?
"Football Christmas presents?" parps Johnny Somebody. "How about my geeky football periodic table art prints. I've just finished England and I'm hoping to finish every club in the UK by 2033! Watford is on its way."
Interesting take from ITV's Roy Keane, who says Gerrard is not quite a great player because although "he has shown he is capable of winning games on his own ... don't think he's made the players around him much better." Keane reckons Paul Scholes and Patrick Vieira are ahead of him in terms of greatness, but perhaps what he's really saying is: "Gerrard's very good, but he's no me." Which would be a fair point.
Meaningless? I'll give you meaningless. Azdfnbhif xhahufga uygdyuaer. See? This friendly, meanwhile, is highly significant: it's Steven Gerrard's 100th cap, for goodness sake, and only the 83rd to have been won in a friendly featuring two half-strength teams at best. And, more intriguingly, it's Raheem Sterling's first cap, the youngster having made up his mind as to whether to commit to a future of walloping the likes of St Lucia and the Turks and Caicos Islands before being eliminated from international competitions by the first decent team he comes up against or walloping the likes of San Marino and Moldova before being eliminated from international competitions by the first decent team he comes up against, the latter option carrying the added bonus of being regularly Walcottized, hailed as an enduring England hero before being denounced as a has-been three weeks later. He looks even better than Walcott, of course, but the more pertinent issue for Roy Hodgson may be whether he is better than James Milner: it's all very well unhinging opposing defences with zigzag runs followed by admirably mature decisions, but can he track back, eh?
Steven Caulker and Leon Osman are making debuts tonight too and Wilfied Zaha's primed for action on the bench, all of which increases the interest in an England team that is devoid of most of the customary inclusions. Sweden, meanwhile, start with 10 of the players who featured in their preposterous 4-4 comeback in Germany, the only newcomer being Udinese striker Mathias Ranegie.
Sweden: Isaksson; Lustig, Granqvist, Jonas Olsson, Martin Olsson; Elm, Kallstrom, Larsson, Kacaniklic; Ibrahimovic, Ranegie.
England: Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Caulker, Baines, Gerrard, Osman, Cleverley, Young, Sterling, Welbeck.
And another thing:
Would you just look at Steve Gerrard in the photo above? It's not the worst of the genre but it's definitely part of an increasing broad album of photos in which footballer are told to stare hard at the lens, chested out and muscles tensed like a cretinous cross between a heroic gladiator and Victoria Beckham. The worst of the genre, since you ask, may well be in the ones at Tottenham, whose club shop and programmes are adorned with shots of various squad members trying to look propah 'ard, including little Scott Parker and rosy-cheeked Gareth Bale. They look silly. It doesn't work. So stop it, snappers, just stop it. Bring joy back to photos. More “cheeeeeeeeeeeeese!', less cheesiness. Thanks.
And another thing:
I'm in the market for nifty ideas for football-related xmas presents. The best I've come across so far is this.
Paul will be here from 7pm.
In the meantime here's some reading material: