Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill praised the second half efforts of his side, as they came from a goal ...Sun, Jun 11 2017
Sweden's 1-0 defeat to Belgium in Nice brought the curtain down on Zlatan Ibrahimovic's international career after 62 goals in 116 games.
Ibrahimovic declared before the start of Euro 2016 that “the legend can still deliver.” However, the 34 year old striker – linked with a move to Manchester United since leaving Paris St-Germain at the end of last season – failed to stamp his usual authority in France, failing to score, though he did create Sweden's solitary goal against the Republic of Ireland.
While Ibrahimovic's retirement will garner the majority of the headlines, it was also the end of the line at this level for midfielder Kim Kallstrom and goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, with the latter performing heroics throughout the Belgium game to give his side hope of pulling off a shock victory. In the end, it would take something special to beat him.
Had fans in the stadium and at home been told the game would produce one magic moment, most would have backed Ibra to conjure it.
Instead, it was Radja Nainggolan's 84th minute wonder strike which lit up the Stade de Nice and ensured a second place finish for the Belgians. Coupled with Robbie Brady's header 60 seconds later in Group E's other game, Ireland against Italy, that finished the Swedes in France and the international careers of Kallstrom, Isaksson and, of course, Zlatan.
It could have been quite different, of course, even up until one minute before Belgium scored. Andreas Granqvist looked to have broken the deadlock when he powered a header goalwards and beyond Thibaut Courtois, but Kevin de Bruyne had stationed himself on the line and dutifully headed clear.
Isaksson had denied de Bruyne, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku (more than once) by the time heartbreak arrived with just six minutes left on the clock – and there was nothing the Kasimpasa 'keeper could have done to prevent it.
Eden Hazard beat his man on the left-flank and reached the byline, but then cut the ball back all the way across and outside of the box to Nainggolan who was one of three Belgian players queuing up on the edge. The Roma midfielder steadied himself before firing a perfect strike from range across the flying Isaksson to end the Swedish resistance.
Ibrahimovic had a couple of half-chances during the match and there would be one last moment for him in the 86th minute. He chested a cross into the box and volleyed goalwards, but it flew just wide of Courtois's post. Failure to score here meant that Zlatan's Sweden career ended without a goal in his last five internationals, his longest barren run for his country.
Then, Hazard nearly made it crueller for the Swedes in stoppage time, but once again, almost in defiance to the last flickering light of his own international career, Isaksson denied him. To no avail.
Sweden: Andreas Isaksson; Victor Lindelof, Erik Johansson, Andreas Granqvist, Martin Olsson; Sebastian Larsson (Jimmy Durmaz, 70), Albin Ekdal, Kim Kallstrom, Emil Forsberg (Erkan Zengin, 82); Marcus Berg (John Guidetti, 63), Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Subs not used: Robin Olsen (GK), Patrik Carlgren (GK), Albin Ekdal, Pontus Jansson, Oscar Hiljemark, Pontus Welbloom, Ludwig Augustinsson, Emir Kujovic, Mikael Lustig, Oscar Lewicki.
Booked: A Ekdal (33), E Johansson (36).
Belgium: Thibaut Courtois; Thomas Meunier, Toby Alderweireld, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen; Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Dries Mertens, 71), Radja Nainggolan, Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard (Divock Origi, 90+3); Kevin de Bruyne; Romelu Lukaku (Christian Benteke, 87).
Subs not used: Jean-François Gillet (GK), Simon Mignolet (GK), Jason Denayer, Mousa Dembélé, Michy Batshuayi, Christian Kabasele, Jordan Lukaku, Laurent Ciman, Marouane Fellaini.
Bookings: T Meunier (30), A Witsel (45+1).
Referee: Felix Brych (GER).
Extratime Man of the Match: Andreas Isaksson (Sweden).