Ibrahimovic winner ensures Sweden go into Euro 2012 on a high
Stockholm: Sweden came out on top of a largely end-to-end game against Serbia after securing a 2-1 win in their final warm-up friendly ahead of Euro 2012.
The clash started brightly, as both sides created chances in the opening quarter of an hour, and it was the hosts who found the net first when Ola Toivonen made the most of Branimir Aleksic`s error. The Balkans hit-back soon after though, when Neven Subotic powered a header past the helpless Andreas Isaksson.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic restored the Swedes` lead from the penalty spot seven minutes after the break, but the flow of the game soon failed to regain its spark, as so often happens in friendly games with both managers making a number of substitutes to test their respective squads.
The home side were without Johan Elmander, who is still recovering with a broken foot, while fellow striker Markus Rosenberg was also injured so Toivonen stepped in to play as the conventional striker in front of a front three including Ibrahimovic.
Sweden will board the plane for Kiev on Wednesday morning with a 2-1 win against Serbia in the bag. However, that win will have done little to calm Erik Hamren’s defensive worries ahead of Euro 2012.
Against a young and inexperienced Serbian side eager to impress their new coach in only his second match in charge, the Swedish rearguard looked for long periods out of sorts against small, but technically gifted Serbian strikers.
They did look much better after the break adding stability to their fragile defensive ranks, though, and Rasmus Elm gave a reminder of why he is rated as the hottest transfer target in the upcoming tournament.
Anders Svensson started in midfield despite reportedly suffering from exhaustion due to the Swedish league, where he plays his club football, still being underway, while Martin Olsson and Mikael Lustic were given a chance to impress ahead of their Euro 2012 opener against Ukraine.
Serbia were without Fiorentina`s Adem Ljajic who was not included in the squad after he refused to sing the national anthem due to his political beliefs, while Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic started on the bench. Manchester United`s Nemanja Vidic and Dejan Stankovic were among the bigger names also unavailable for Sinisa Mihajlovic.
Sweden started the brighter of the two sides and nearly opened the scoring early on when Ibrahimovic found the side-netting from close range, and should really have done better.
Then, Serbia`s Branimir Aleksic nearly gifted the hosts the lead. The goalkeeper rushed out to clear a through ball but ending up giving it straight to Sebastian Larsson. However, the 21-year-old just scrambled back in time to collect the resulting effort from the midfielder.
The visitors then hit back with two decent chances of their own just after ten minutes had past. Firstly, Darko Lazovic cut in from the left-flank after a good run but blazed his shot over the bar, before Toivonen failed to capitalise on a clear opening following some neat work from Lustig.
Sweden then managed to hold on to the ball to greater effect, and saw their efforts pay off little over 20 minutes in when Toivonen tapped home from close range to open the scoring after the Serbian custodian failed to collect reported Liverpool target Rasmus Elm`s corner.
Their opponents, however, replied almost instantly. Zoran Tosic stung the palms of Isaksson with a free-kick before Isaksson parried Dejan Lekic`s follow-up behind for a corner to Serbia. Borussia Dortmund`s Subotic then rose highest to head home from the resulting set-piece to level the scores.
After the two goals came in quick succession the game died down somewhat, but the heat was again turned up just after the half-hour mark as Sweden appealed for a penalty after what they claimed to be a handball following Toivonen`s driven cross. However, German referee Felix Brych waved away the protests.
Then, the side that failed to qualify for Euro 2012 nearly hit the hosts on the counter as Blackburn`s Radosav Petrovic tried a cheeky lobbed effort from the half-way line. Isaksson was forced to tip it over as he back-peddled to his goal.
Both sides kept trying to find another goal before the interval, and it was Sweden who applied the most pressure, but they failed to penetrate Serbia`s area in a lulled ending to the first half.
Serbia were quicker out of the blocks after the break, and were denied a great chance only by some terrific defending by Larsson, who threw himself at the ball to beat Petrovic to it at the far post.
A matter of minutes later, though, it was Sweden who had a golden opportunity to go back in front. Toivonen timed his run to perfection as he latched onto an Elm through ball, beating the offside trap, before he was brought down by Aleksic in the box and a penalty was awarded.
Aleksic could have no complaints as he was nowhere near the ball, and was lucky to stay on the pitch. Ibrahimovic then proceeded to send the keeper the wrong way, calmly converting the spot-kick to put his side 2-1 up.
The game then settled back down into a midfield battle with neither side really creating anything for the next ten minutes or so. Just around the hour mark, Isaksson made a decent save from Petrovic`s low drive, but apart from that the final ball was lacking.
Sweden nearly got themselves into trouble soon after as Lustig sold his keeper a little short with a backward header. However, Isaksson came sliding out to claim the ball before the opposition forward could react. The lively Petrovic then tried his luck from distance but again the Swede was equal to it.
With just over 20 minutes to play, Svensson went a whisker away from securing a two-goal cushion - the midfielder`s strike coming back off the upright after an intricate passing move from Erik Hamren`s men.
After a prolonged break in play due to Kim Kallstrom receiving a stray arm to the face, Ibrahimovic forced a brilliant stop from Serbia`s substitute keeper. The AC Milan forward smashed a fine half-volley goalwards, but substitute goalkeeper Damir Kahriman parried away.
The match was, in effect, over though as more substitutes completely took away the tempo of the match, with Sweden holding onto their lead by keeping the ball. Nonetheless, the Scandinavians can now look forward to their Euro 2012 opener against Ukraine on June 11.Sweden earned the penalty when a brilliant through-pass from Rasmus Elm found Ola Toivonen on the brink of offside and Toivonen was then followingly brought down illegally by the Serbian keeper Aleksic.