LONDON (Reuters) - England manager Roy Hodgson is looking to the future rather than dwelling on Wednesday’s 4-2 friendly defeat to Sweden at the new Friends Arena in Stockholm.
“If we had to lose a game it was better to lose it today in a friendly, and a lot of things we learned today were very positive,” Hodgson told reporters.
Hodgson became the first England manager since Sven-Goran Eriksson nine years ago to give debuts to six players in one match - three as starters and three as substitutes - as he continues to build a team capable of reaching and doing well in the World Cup in 2014.
The popular manager was given a warm welcome by Swedish fans who remember him fondly for helping to transform their game during his stints at Halmstads and Malmo in the 1970s and 1980s.
Despite being disappointed at losing for the first time in 90 minutes - his only other setback was a penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the Euros - Hodgson was happy with much of what he witnessed from his experimental side.
“I thought it was a good performance. I took the risk to give debutants a chance, obviously that will open things up and I was hoping we’d hold out,” he said.
“(Zlatan) Ibrahimovic scored a wonder goal to put the icing on the cake for them but for long periods of the game I can be more than satisfied. Many players who got a chance came out with great credit.”
Raheem Sterling, 17, became England’s fifth-youngest player of all time and had a good game in midfield, while defender Steven Caulker, 20, scored on his debut and Leon Osman, 31, also did well on his belated promotion to the side.
The three debutants who came on late in the game: Wilfried Zaha, 20, Ryan Shawcross, 25, and Carl Jenkinson, 20, are now in with a chance of playing a part in a new-look side.
There were also returns for Jack Wilshere after a 17-month injury break and Tom Hudlestone, who had not played for England since 2009.
Skipper Steven Gerrard, winning his 100th cap, added some much-needed maturity to the team who recovered from Ibrahimovic’s first goal of the match after 20 minutes to lead with two in three minutes from Danny Welbeck and Caulker.
In the end England were overshadowed by a stunning individual performance from Ibrahimovic whose fourth goal, an audacious overhead volley from an acute angle, gave Sweden a night to remember in their new stadium.
England’s media are often highly critical when the team loses but there was none of that vitriol on Thursday.
Instead they praised Ibrahimovic’s performance and said there were many positives for England, even though events elsewhere meant England surrendered top place in their World Cup qualifying group on the night.
Montenegro beat San Marino 3-0 in a World Cup Group H qualifier, to top the group with 10 points from four matches, with England second on eight from their four.
England do not play again until they meet Brazil at Wembley in February, kicking off the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of the English FA.
It will be interesting to see which players from Wednesday are back in the squad then, and who will be retained for the resumption of World Cup hostilities when England meet San Marino and Montenegro next March.
Editing by Clare Fallon