LONDON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Zlatan Ibrahimovic christened Sweden’s new stadium with a sprinkling of gold on Wednesday with three classy goals and one great one in a 4-2 friendly win over England while Lionel Messi drew a blank for Argentina in Riyadh.
With only a handful of low-key World Cup qualifiers on the fixture list, coaches of some of the favourites to challenge for the trophy in Brazil in 2014 got a last chance this year to cast an eye over their squads.
On a night when the Netherlands and Germany drew 0-0 in Amsterdam, France won 2-1 in Italy and Messi’s Argentina were held 0-0 by Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, it was Sweden’s victory in Stockholm that stole the limelight because of the exploits of Ibrahimovic who scored three times in the last 16 minutes.
The Paris St Germain striker gave Sweden an early lead with an instinctive finish and after an experimental England, who gave debuts to six players, took a 2-1 halftime lead Ibrahimovic produced a stunning finale to a lively friendly.
He equalised with a shot after a beautiful piece of chest control, slammed in a free kick to put the Swedes ahead and then provided the coup de grace, performing an acrobatic overhead kick from 25 metres to raise the roof of the Friends Arena.
“His performance tonight was simply world class and that fourth goal was one of the best I’ve ever seen,” captain Steven Gerrard told ITV Sport on the night of his 100th England apperance.
It was England’s first defeat in 90 minutes since manager Roy Hodgson took over in May.
Hodgson’s team, who will continue their World Cup qualifying campaign in March with work to do after Montenegro went top of their group with a 3-0 victory over San Marino on Wednesday, gave starting places to debutants Raheem Sterling, Leon Osman and Steven Caulker.
Three other players made their debuts as substitutes.
Germany, whose last match was a 4-4 draw with Sweden, kept a clean sheet against the Netherlands in a friendly the visitors dominated.
”Both teams played a solid game,“ Germany captain Philipp Lahm said. ”We did not allow too many chances at the back and that was positive.
“If you draw 4-4 in your previous game it is important your defence is safer next time.”
Bafetimbi Gomis came off the bench to give France victory in Parma against the Euro 2012 runners-up.
Mario Balotelli set up Stephan El Shaarawy to put Italy ahead with his first goal for his country but France hit back almost immediately with a superb goal from Mathieu Valbuena.
Messi failed in his bid to set an outright record for the most Argentina goals in a calendar year.
Saudi goalkeeper Waleed Abdullah did well to keep out substitute Augusto Fernandez and Messi who shares the Argentina record of 12 goals in a year with Gabriel Batistuta.
Former Cold War rivals Russia and the United States met for the first time on a soccer pitch since 2000, drawing 2-2 in Krasnodar where Mix Diskerud grabbed an equaliser for the Americans deep into stoppage time.
Highly-rated Belgium got a reality check as they lost 2-1 in a friendly in Romania while Poland were beaten 3-1 at home by Uruguay and Serbia overcame Chile 3-1 in Switzerland.
Almost unnoticed Montenegro stole in to go top of World Cup Group H qualifying with a comfortable win over whipping boys San Marino.
Their 3-0 victory put them two points above England with 10 points from four matches.
Northern Ireland needed a last-minute equaliser to claim a 1-1 draw at home to Azerbaijan in Group F. (Editing by Tony Jimenez)