Just how good is Zlatan Ibrahimovic? This wasn’t even the best goal he scored that year and by our reckoning is only third on his all-time highlights reel – that’s how good.
The flashy forward’s finest strike of 2012 also came for the national team, against England five months later, when his 30-yard overhead kick completely overshadowed Steven Gerrard’s 100th appearance. “That’s the best goal I’ve seen live,” said the England captain. “Sometimes you think you are looking at a video game,” manager Erik Hamren added.
The Sweden coach was rather fortunate to still be in a job after failure to advance beyond the group stage at Euro 2012. It had been England who’d effectively knocked Sweden out, inflicting a second come-from-behind victory on Hamren’s men, meaning they were playing for pride alone as they faced France in their final Group D game.
Incredibly, Ibrahimovic had already spent a decade being accused of ‘not turning up’ at major tournaments. This, despite shouldering the burden of being Sweden’s only world-class player, and despite becoming just the seventh player in history to score at three Euros when he scored against Ukraine in the opening game. But the best was yet to come.
France were still in a position to, and indeed would, qualify from Group D and were unbeaten in 23 games under Laurent Blanc - they weren’t exactly cannon fodder for Sweden. But as the French coach noted: “In their ranks, they have a player who can make the difference in a game.”
And how. Despite dominating a strangely lacklustre Les Bleus, Sweden would require something special to beat the impressive Hugo Lloris. It came in the 53rd minute. Seb Larsson burst down the right and cut back a cross to the edge of the box, where Ibrahimovic was waiting.
Showing all the agility you’d expect from somebody who practised martial arts in his youth, Ibrahimovic didn’t even flinch in the face of a despairing lunge by Philippe Mexes, throwing himself into the air and, falling back to meet the ball perfectly on his laces, hitting a majestic volley that dipped low past Lloris’s right hand into the very bottom corner, probably the only place he could have beaten the France captain.
Technically, it was a goal as good as Marco van Basten’s in 1988, albeit the stakes were lower, and it made Zlatan the first player in Euros history to score at least two goals at three separate tournaments. He’ll be competing with Cristiano Ronaldo to become the first to score at four Euros this summer.
But the final word should go to the Sweden supporters, who painted Kiev’s Olympic Stadium yellow, despite their team’s early exit. “We wanted to give our fans a present,” said Ibrahimovic. This one came wrapped in gold.
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