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Sweden hand holders Greece a reality check in EURO 2008 Group D

Greece 0-2 Sweden
Second-half goals from Zlatan Ibrahimović and Petter Hansson gave the holders a false start in Salzburg.

Zlatan Ibrahimović of Sweden celebrates scoring the opening goal against Greece
Zlatan Ibrahimović of Sweden celebrates scoring the opening goal against Greece ©Getty Images

Holders Greece already have a fight on their hands to maintain their grip on the trophy they won so memorably four years ago after second-half goals from Zlatan Ibrahimović and Petter Hansson gave Sweden all three points in their opening Group D match in Salzburg.

Otto Rehhagel's side were always on the back foot as they relied on the tactics that had served them so well in Portugal, defending deeply and looking for opportunities on the counterattack. For all their territorial dominance, however, Sweden were unable to pick a way through a characteristically disciplined Greece defence until a moment of inspiration from Ibrahimović who – with his first international goal since October 2005 – broke the deadlock in the 67th minute. Hansson added a second five minutes later to leave Greece with plenty to ponder before Saturday's meeting with Russia.

EURO 2008: All you need to know

Sweden coach Lars Lagerbäck had warned repeatedly in the build-up of the danger Greece posed from set pieces, yet within three minutes his own team had proved they were not to be underestimated in that department either – Hansson heading across goal from a corner. Ibrahimović and Fredrik Ljungberg, back after knee and rib injuries respectively, then nearly combined to good effect before Anders Svensson thumped a first-time left-foot volley just past the post from 25 metres.

Having again reversed his decision to retire from national-team football for this tournament, Henrik Larsson produced an unusually quiet opening half-hour, but burst into life by unselfishly passing up two shooting opportunities by trying to find Ibrahimović. On each occasion the menace was snuffed out, although the FC Internazionale Milano forward then landed an improvised header on the roof of Antonis Nikopolidis's net.

Highlights: The best goals of EURO 2008

Greece had barely threatened their opponents' goal with the notable exception of a fine early run past three defenders from the 2004 final match-winner, Angelos Charisteas. His burst ended disappointingly with a low shot straight at Andreas Isaksson, who then reacted smartly to keep out an Angelos Basinas effort from distance on the stroke of half-time. The pattern remained much the same in the second period, with Greece largely content to sit back and soak up pressure.

That plan might have come undone within three minutes of the restart, Niclas Alexandersson lifting a pass over the defence for Christian Wilhelmsson on the right after Greece had half-cleared a corner. The midfielder beat Nikopolidis to the ball but his shot was too high. While happy to let their opponents make the running, the set-piece delivery of Greece's Giorgos Karagounis prompted several uncomfortable moments and the midfielder wasted a presentable opening himself just past the hour, twice firing straight at defenders with Sweden exposed.

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There was soon more discomfort for the Scandinavians as Hansson inadvertently headed a Traianos Dellas cross just past his own post – yet within seconds Sweden were ahead. Ibrahimović, without a goal in 13 international outings, exchanged passes with Larsson and thumped an unstoppable drive beyond Nikopolidis from the edge of the box.

That was the first time Greece's defence had been breached in 425 minutes of EURO finals action but they soon conceded a messy second. Nikopolidis saved from Ljungberg but the ball looped into the air for Hansson to scramble in at the far post. Sweden were always in control thereafter, although the night ended on a note of concern as Wilhelmsson limped off with a heavily strapped left thigh.

EURO 2008: Team of the Tournament


Sweden line up ahead of the Greece game
Sweden line up ahead of the Greece gameAFP via Getty Images

Greece: Nikopolidis; Torosidis, Dellas (Amanatidis 70), Antzas, Kyrgiakos, Seitaridis; Karagounis, Katsouranis, Basinas (c), Charisteas; Gekas (Samaras 46)
: Chalkias, Tzorvas, Patsatzoglou, Spiropoulos, Giannakopoulos, Vyntra, Goumas, Tziolis, Liberopoulos
Coach: Otto Rehhagel

Sweden: Isaksson; Nilsson, Hansson, Mellberg, Alexandersson (Stoor 74); Ljungberg (c), Svensson, Andersson, Wilhelmsson (Rosenberg 78); Henrik Larsson, Ibrahimović (Elmander 71)
: Shaaban, Wiland, Linderoth, Majstorović, Granqvist, Källström, Sebastian Larsson, Allbäck, Dorsin
: Lars Lagerbäck

Referee: Massimo Busacca (Switzerland)

Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimović (Sweden)