Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice as Sweden consolidated their position at the top of UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 4 with a 5-0 win against San Marino.
The Swedes, unbeaten in qualifying games since 1997, were without the suspended Fredrik Ljungberg and the injured Marcus Allbäck, but did not have any problems making it two wins from two games against the Sammarinese following the 6-0 win in June. The Swedish coaches, Tommy Söderberg and Lars Lagerbäck, opted to play Brøndby IF centre-back Andreas Jakobsson in the defensive midfield position with Everton FC's Tobias Linderoth dropping to the bench.
Sweden started confidently and San Marino were dealt a blow after nine minutes when they lost midfielder Bryan Gasperoni to injury. He was replaced by Ermanno Zonsini, but the early change seemed to disturb the visitors and Sweden piled on the pressure, twice going close after 23 and 25 minutes through Anders Svensson and Ibrahimovic.
Sweden carried on pushing forward and their efforts paid off in the 33rd minute when Jakobsson crossed for Ibrahimovic, who found Mattias Jonsson with a neat flick. The Brøndby forward made no mistake from close range. Jakobsson then turned goalscorer in the 49th minute when he raced clear and coolly slotted past Federico Gasperoni in the San Marino goal.
Ibrahimovic takes control
Sweden were cruising and Ibrahimovic got his name on the scoresheet in the 56th minute after being played in by Jonsson. The AFC Ajax forward controlled the ball on his left foot and then fired past the hapless Gasperoni with his right. That strike made it 3-0 but the Swedes, and Ibrahimovic, hadn't finished yet.
Kim Källström, who replaced Ljungberg on the left of midfield, then scored from the penalty spot in the 68th minute after substitute Linderoth had been pulled down. Fifteen minutes later Sweden were given another penalty after Ibrahimovic was impeded and the Ajax man took it himself, calmly placing the ball to Gasperoni's left.
The win saw Sweden move three points clear at the top of EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 4, with Latvia playing Poland later on Saturday. Söderberg and Lagerbäck's men next face Poland in Chorzów on Wednesday and a win there would see them qualify for their third successive finals tournament.
"It was an OK performance by our team, and good preparation for the important away game against Poland," Sweden coach Lagerbäck said. "The tempo was low in the first half, San Marino played well in defence, and our inability to create scoring opportunities was a problem. In the second half we got the goals, which was precisely the way it was in the last game we played against them."
San Marino coach Giampaolo Mazza said: "It was an honour to play the game, in this beautiful arena and in front of a huge crowd. The important thing for our players was not the result, as the difference between the teams was too big, but the experience."