It seemed Zlatan Ibrahimović would play little part in Sweden's two June UEFA EURO 2012 qualifiers, sitting out Friday's trip to Moldova to rest his injured foot and beginning last night's visit of Finland on the bench. Even so, he ended the game with a hat-trick in a 5-0 Group E win.
Sweden were already ahead in Solna through Kim Källström's free-kick when Ola Toivonen was forced off with a toe problem, pressing the AC Milan striker into action. "I got onto the pitch on 25 minutes, scored twice within ten minutes and scored a third in the second half," Ibrahimović said. "It feels good."
Coach Erik Hamrén's unexpected decision to start a fit and healthy Ibrahimović on the bench was something the hat-trick hero completely agreed with. "I couldn't have lasted 90 minutes," the 29-year-old said. "
I haven't played for three weeks, I've been on the pitch for three days – two training sessions and then today's match."
If Ibrahimović came into the match earlier than Hamrén had planned, the coach was nonetheless thrilled as his charges cut the Netherlands' Group E lead to three points with four games to go. "
It was probably the best substitution I've ever made!" he said. "Of course it was unfortunate for Ola to get injured, but as it turned out it was a pretty decent substitution."
When Emir Bajrami completed the rout late on after a move begun by Ibrahimović, the duo shared a rapturous celebration. Bajrami put it into context afterwards. "Zlatan was joking with me earlier in the day, saying: 'Mate, you never score – what's your problem?'" the FC Twente midfielder explained. "So after the goal I shouted to him: 'Who can't score?'"
On the receiving end of the Swedish attacking display were Finland, a country used to taking beatings from their neighbours – this was their 64th in 84 meetings, against only nine wins. Mixu Paatelainen's reign as coach had started on Friday with a narrow 1-0 success in San Marino and the fourth-placed team's qualifying hopes are now effectively over.
"I'm very disappointed," Paatelainen said. "
At this level you can't make the kind of mistakes we made – 5-0 is a devastating result. The standard that we play at and the mistakes that we make correspond to our position in the rankings. The only way is to develop and get better."
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