Friday 31 October 2014

Ibrahimovic magic fails to mask Swedes' soft centre

Philip O'Connor

Published 15/08/2013 | 05:00

Worryingly for Ireland, Zlatan Ibrahimovic hit a hat-trick against Norway last night
Worryingly for Ireland, Zlatan Ibrahimovic hit a hat-trick against Norway last night

Sweden coach Erik Hamren has more than his fair share of selection headaches ahead of his team's crunch World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on September 6.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic may have hit another stunning hat-trick but, with players in key positions suffering from injury or a lack of playing time, Hamren had to rejig his side considerably in the 4-2 friendly win over Norway in Stockholm last night.

Sweden were two goals up within half an hour thanks to Ibrahimovic, but their suspect defence soon let Norway back into the game.

FC Nuremburg's Per Nilsson was preferred to West Bromwich Albion's Jonas Olsson in the centre of defence, where he was joined by Bologna's Mikael Antonsson. But that experiment was short-lived as Nilsson limped off after just 25 minutes to be replaced by Olsson.

Olsson's biggest contribution to the first half was to up-end Norway's Mohammed Abdellaoue to concede a penalty and allow Norway back into the game.

Thumping

Antonsson then had a foot in the second goal, Stefan Johansen's thumping shot deflecting off him to wrong-foot Andreas Isaksson.

Hamren's real headache is in the midfield engine room as injury and a loss of form have forced his hand.

Spartak Moscow's Kim Kallstrom wasn't even included in the squad as he struggles for playing time, and Rasmus Elm will miss the qualifying clash in Dublin following the discovery of a blood clot in his calf.

Their absence opened the door for Elm's CSKA Moscow team-mate Pontus Wernbloom, who partnered Albin Ekdal of Cagliari in central midfield against Norway.

Wernbloom was his usual combative self and Ekdahl played in Ibrahimovic for Sweden's second goal, but against a modest Norwegian midfield there was little sign of the chemistry that exists between the trio of Kallstrom, Elm and Anders Svensson. Svensson celebrated his 142nd cap with the best goal of the night, a long-distance shot that swerved before hitting the back of the net.

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