Sweden too strong for defending champions

Greece 0 Sweden 2

Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic ended his international goal drought in style as Greece’s defence of their European Championship title started with defeat in Salzburg.

Ibrahimovic had not scored for his country since October 2005 but smashed into the top corner in the 67th minute at Stadion Wals-Siezenheim.

Receiving a throw from the right flank he fed Henrik Larsson, who returned the ball to the edge of the area to allow Ibrahimovic to unleash his effort without breaking stride.

When Petter Hansson bundled in a second five minutes later, the resistance of the Greeks was crushed.

No team has successfully defended this competition and Greece have been given little chance to make history.

When they won in 2004 they kept it tight, stifled opponents and edged their three knockout games 1-0 – and that has been their tactic since.

The same was expected in this game, with the Greeks building from defence and looking for a moment of inspiration in attack, their patient approach sparking whistles of derision from Sweden fans.

When going forward they have a player with a taste for the big stage in Angelos Charisteas.

Charisteas scored the winner in the final against Portugal four years ago and he was in the action in the second minute here, getting booked for a clumsy tackle on Hansson.

Fans from both countries mixed happily in the city that was the setting for the Sound Of Music – but Greece’s style meant it was a different story on the pitch.

Charisteas then had the first effort on goal, weaving around three Sweden defenders as he cut in from the right flank – but his shot was straight at Manchester City goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson.

Ibrahimovic was passed fit following knee troubles with Inter Milan at the end of the season, and he almost ended his dismal run in the 33rd minute.

He was found by Freddie Ljungberg with his back to goal and he headed on to the roof of the net as Sotiris Kyrgiakos clattered him.

In the next move, Olof Mellberg had to head a dangerous cross over his own goal following Giourkas Seitaridis’ ball from the right.

Then Angelos Basinas tried his luck from 30 yards just before the break and Isaksson was down to parry the awkward shot – but the efforts at the end of the opening period could not disguise a half short on entertainment.

It frustrated Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, who was gesturing in his lively way on the bench, urging his players to get tighter to the Swedes.

It was too tight for Ibrahimovic’s liking, though, as he took an eye-watering kick between the legs from Giorgos Karagounis but was able to carry on.

Sweden should have had the lead three minutes after the restart when Christian Wilhelmsson latched onto a ball over the top of Greece’s defence. He lobbed Antonis Nikopolidis but also cleared the crossbar.

Mellberg almost gifted Greece an opening when he played the ball blindly out of defence, allowing Karagounis a run at Sweden’s defence. Mellberg was back just in time with his team-mates to scramble away.

With the game in a pattern the Greeks were content with, then came Ibrahimovic’s moment of inspiration, his own masterpiece in the city of Mozart’s birth.

Hansson’s goal was less pleasing on the eye. Ljungberg raced through but had his finish saved, with substitute Johan Elmander poking the ball to the back post where Hansson applied the ugly finish.

Hope for Greece comes from four years ago, when they reached the quarter-finals with four points. Spain and Russia await this time.

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