STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s four-goal haul against England has given Swedes a timely reminder of the benefits of their multi-cultural society at a time of increasing support for anti-immigration parties.
“Just call it the Zlatan Arena,” wrote newspaper Expressen, after the Swedish captain scored four times - including an incredible angled bicycle kick - that gave Sweden a 4-2 win over England in an international friendly at the new Friends Arena.
His goal spree left coach Roy Hodgson beaten for the first time in 90 minutes as England manager. His only other setback was losing to Italy in a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
Ibra’s goals came from across his broad register of skills - a classic poacher’s effort to open the scoring, a second where he chested the ball to himself and volleyed home, a thundering free kick and the bicycle kick in stoppage time that completed the scoring.
The goals also came on the day a politician from the far-right Sweden Democrats was forced to resign after a film showed him using offensive language about immigrants.
Sweden’s national soccer team has a number of players of different ethnic backgrounds including Ibrahimovic, who is of Bosnian and Croatian descent.
“They probably weren’t happy with that, the idiots,” second-half substitute Pontus Wernbloom told newspaper Sportbladet, referring to the Sweden Democrats. “I hope Zlatan shut them up.”
His midfield partner Kim Kallstrom also spoke to Sportbladet of Ibrahimovic’s value as a role model.
“With foreign-born parents and certain problems in society, he can hopefully unify the country in a very good way. Football builds bridges. He’s a modern Swede who stands for the new Sweden.”
In a column headlined “Sweden’s Pride”, Sportbladet columnist Simon Bank wrote: “We were in Zlatan’s arena. We come from Zlatan’s country. And if ever we needed symbols and leaders, it is now.”
Polls show that support for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats has risen from six percent at the last election to 11 percent this week.
The country’s newspapers highlighted Ibrahimovic’s goals in the domestic political context while also delighting in the reaction of their English counterparts.
The British media have been slow to warm to the giant from Malmo as he previously has struggled against their sides in the Champions League but that came to an end at the Friends Arena.
Sportbladet’s London correspondent said it had been “my greatest moment in 10 years with the English press pack, and I just have Mr. Ibrahimovic to thank for that.”
Ibrahimovic told a news conference afterwards that the breath-taking bicycle kick was the best of his 39 goals for the national side, but it was the first one, the first goal in the new stadium, that gave him the most pleasure.
“I liked the first goal more, because it made history in a new arena. It’s not the best goal I have scored, but its the one I have enjoyed the most.”
True to form, he didn’t mention politics at all during the post—match press conference, preferring to let his feet do his talking for him on the pitch.
Editing by Alan Baldwin