THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LONDON — Zlatan Ibrahimovic illuminated a low-key night of international friendlies on Wednesday, scoring an audacious overhead kick from 30 yards to cap his four-goal display in Sweden’s 4-2 win over England.
Ibrahimovic’s one-man show in Stockholm — featuring what both his opponents and pundits hailed as one of the greatest goals seen in recent years — overshadowed two high-profile matches between fierce European rivals, with the Netherlands and Germany drawing 0-0 and France coming from behind to beat Italy 2-1 away.
The prolific Lionel Messi was kept scoreless as Argentina was held 0-0 in Saudi Arabia, while Portugal, missing the injured Cristiano Ronaldo, surprisingly drew 2-2 in Gabon. Pedro Rodriguez scored twice as Spain defeated host Panama 5-1.
It was left to another of the world’s leading strikers to take the plaudits, with Ibrahimovic’s acrobatic strike with his back to goal described by England captain Steven Gerrard — who made his 100th international appearance — as "one of the best goals I’ve ever seen live."
"When I saw the goalkeeper was out I tried to put it against the goal, and luckily it went in," Ibrahimovic said. "It’s both luck and skill."
The enigmatic Ibrahimovic punished England with a stand-out all-round performance to mark the opening of Sweden’s new national stadium, the Friends Arena.
After poking Sweden ahead in the 20th minute from close range, the Paris Saint-Germain striker made it 2-2 by chesting down Anders Svensson’s lofted pass and volleying home past Joe Hart.
Ibrahimovic’s skimming free kick from 35 yards somehow beat Hart before the Sweden captain caused more embarrassment for the goalkeeper by capping the victory in stoppage time in memorable style.
Hart’s weak headed clearance was latched onto by Ibrahimovic, who span and produced a bicycle kick that looped over the goalkeeper and two defenders into an empty net from well outside the area and from an angle.
The stadium erupted as Ibrahimovic wheeled away in delight with his shirt off, having become the first player to score four times in a match against England.
"I don’t know if you’re going to see another one like that in your life," Sweden coach Erik Hamren said.
England’s goals came from Danny Welbeck and debutant Steven Caulker in a four-minute span before halftime, with Hodgson also giving a first start to 17-year-old Liverpool prodigy Raheem Sterling.
It was the second straight match that Sweden had scored four goals — on the first occasion, it came from 4-0 down to draw 4-4 with Germany in a World Cup qualifier last month.
The Germans kept a clean sheet on Wednesday in a dull stalemate with the Netherlands in Amsterdam, with both countries electing to start with fringe players because of injury or illness. With this round of friendlies coming in between two weekends of domestic play in Europe’s leagues, most of the teams didn’t have their first-choice lineups out.
Germany was looking to claim a third win over its bitter rival in 12 months but Marco Reus missed a chance to clinch victory for the visitors in injury time.
"We played very well against one of the best teams in Europe," Germany coach Joachim Loew said.
Italy slipped to its sixth consecutive friendly defeat when Bafetimbi Gomis struck in the 67th minute from Patrice Evra’s pass.
"We achieved a great result here in Italy, against the runners-up in Europe, a side with a lot of quality, even though they lacked some key players today," France coach Didier Deschamps said.
Stephen El Shaarawy gave Italy the lead in Parma in the 35th with his first international goal, only for Mathieu Valbuena to equalize two minutes later thanks to a superb solo goal.
The in-form Luis Suarez scored in the second half to cap Uruguay’s 3-1 win in Poland, but South American rival Argentina lacked a cutting edge in Saudi Arabia, with Messi failing in his bid to set an outright record for the most goals for the country in a calendar year.
Messi shares the record with Gabriel Batistuta with 12 goals.
"We didn’t play a good match, from the beginning we didn’t do the things we needed to do," Messi said. "We basically gave away the first half, and in the second we played a little bit better, but not much."
Ronaldo was absent with an eye injury as Portugal came from a goal down to go ahead through goals by Pizzi and Hugo Almeida. Andre Biyogo Poko buried a 70th-minute penalty to earn a committed Gabon a draw against the world’s No. 4-ranked team.
Spain only needed about 15 minutes to get rolling with Pedro’s first goal against overmatched Panama. David Villa, Sergio Ramos and Markel Susaeta got the other goals for the defending World Cup and European champions.