Football: Lukaku’s treble sees Belgium beat Sweden, overshadows Ibrahimovic return

Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku (centre) celebrates scoring the opening goal with his teammates. PHOTO: AFP

STOCKHOLM – New Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco believes he is the man for the job and he is also hoping that victory will unite the squad after their poor 2022 World Cup campaign.

On Friday, striker Romelu Lukaku scored a hat-trick as they claimed a 3-0 away win over Sweden in their Euro 2024 opening qualifier, which overshadowed Swedish veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s much-anticipated return to international football.

The win at the Friends Arena in Solna gave Tedesco the perfect start, as his side seek to bounce back from a disappointing group-stage exit in Qatar and Janne Andersson’s Sweden posed little threat.

“Those are three very important points. Taking three points and scoring three goals in Sweden is never easy for any team,” said the 37-year-old.

“Winning is always the best thing to unite a group. As for my selection choices – the boys have shown that I wasn’t wrong.

“We can play even better football and we have to improve, but all in all I’m satisfied.”

Dejan Kulusevski thought he had given the home side the lead in the 15th minute, as he cut in from the right and drove a low shot through goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ legs but Wout Faes stopped the ball in time.

Lukaku broke the deadlock in the 35th minute, outjumping Hjalmar Ekdal to head home a cross.

The burly striker then took advantage of more slack marking to double his side’s advantage early in the second half, turning in the ball from close range following a low cross.

The introduction of the 41-year-old Ibrahimovic in the 73rd minute after a long absence due to injury prompted an ear-splitting roar from the crowd, as the striker became the second-oldest player to feature in a European Championship qualifier.

Born on Oct 3, 1981, he was initially hailed as the oldest man to compete. But it then emerged that Gibraltar striker Lee Casciaro, born four days earlier, had taken the record in his team’s match on Friday against Greece.

Ibrahimovic’s first touch of note came seven minutes after he was brought on. He chested the ball down in the box but lost his footing on the notoriously poor pitch at Sweden’s national arena and the chance was snuffed out.

Three minutes later, Lukaku killed the game off as the home defence suffered another collective collapse, leaving him with another tap-in to complete his treble and an easy win for the visitors.

Andersson was not too worried about Sweden’s defeat, saying: “We have to analyse it in a little more detail but my experience was that we played an okay match against a good opposition. 

“I feel we had as many good scoring chances as Belgium. I’m disappointed to lose 3-0, but this is just the first qualifying match.”


Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic in action against Belgium. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

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