Zlatan Ibrahimovic made a winning return to international football with Sweden on Thursday after nearly five years away as Germany came out for human rights in their opening qualifier for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Ibrahimovic set up Viktor Claesson’s 35th-minute winner in the 1-0 win over Georgia at the Friends Arena just outside Stockholm in his 117th appearance for his national team, his first since Euro 2016. The AC Milan forward had to hold back the tears as he spoke to reporters on Monday about his international comeback, and he was in good spirits after a win that puts Sweden top of Group B.
“It felt good. It felt like it was my first international match. It was a lot of adrenaline,” Ibrahimovic told Sverige Radio.
Sweden lead their group two points ahead of Greece and Spain, who played out a surprising 1-1 draw in Granada.
Alvaro Morata opened the scoring with a superb control and finish from Koke’s clipped pass in the 33rd minute. But the Greeks levelled through their only shot of the entire match, Anastasios Bakasetas’ penalty in the 57th minute after Inigo Martinez fouled Giorgios Masouras.
“I don’t like the result and we weren’t inspired either... Whenever we got near the Greek penalty area we lacked sharpness and efficacy,” said Spain coach Luis Enrique.
Germans join ‘rights’ protest
Germany lined up with T-shirts that spelled out “human rights” ahead of their 3-0 Group J win over Iceland amid concerns over alleged human rights abuses in Qatar, the controversial hosts of next year’s finals.
On Monday, Amnesty International said “thousands of migrant workers continue to be exploited and abused” in stadium construction despite labour reforms put in place by Doha since the country was awarded the tournament.
“We have the World Cup coming up and there will be discussions about it... we wanted to show we are not ignoring that,” goalscorer Leon Goretzka told broadcaster RTL. “We have a large reach – and we can use it to set an example for the values we want to stand for. That was clear.”
Once on the pitch Joachim Loew’s side got off to a rapid start, with Goretzka and Kai Havertz firing the hosts into a two-goal lead inside seven minutes.
Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan continued his fine recent goalscoring form, collecting the ball 10 minutes after the break and drilling home a low shot.
Italy enjoy comeback
First-half goals from Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile were enough for Italy to ease past the Northern Ireland 2-0 in their first World Cup match since their humiliating failure to qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
Berardi scored his fourth goal in five internationals after racing through to meet Alessandro Florenzi’s defence-splitting pass before lashing the opener past Bailey Peacock-Farrell from a tight angle.
Immobile doubled the hosts’ lead in Parma by ending a rapid counter-attack with a near-post shot that squeezed home, and despite an improved second-half performance from the away side Italy easily held on for the win.
They sit second in Group C, level on points with Switzerland who beat Bulgaria 3-1.
James Ward-Prowse and Ollie Watkins scored their first international goals as England thumped San Marino 5-0, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin hitting a brace and stand-in captain Raheem Sterling also netting in a comfortable win.
Robert Lewandowski struck with seven minutes remaining in Budapest to earn Poland a late point in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Hungary.
The visitors had already come back once from two goals down to level when Willi Orban put the hosts ahead again in the 78th minute.
But Bayern striker Lewandowski lashed home his side’s second leveller five minutes later to earn a point.
John McGinn’s stunning overhead kick five minutes from time rescued Scotland from a losing start to their campaign in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Austria.