Zlatan Ibrahimovic on Thursday made a winning return to international soccer with Sweden after nearly five years away, as Germany came out for human rights in their opening qualifier for the 2022 FIFA 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 the 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 Greece leveled 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,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said.
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.
Amnesty International on Monday said that “thousands of migrant workers continue to be exploited and abused” in stadium construction, despite labor reforms put in place by Doha since the nation 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,” Germany 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 goalscoring form, collecting the ball 10 minutes after halftime and drilling home a low shot.
Elsewhere in Group J, Romania defeated North Macedonia 3-2 and Armenia won 1-0 in Liechtenstein.
First-half goals from Domenico Berardi and Ciro Immobile were enough for Italy to ease past 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 defense-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 counterattack 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 in Group I.
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 from two goals down when Willi Orban put the hosts ahead again in the 78th minute, but Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski lashed home his side’s second equalizer five minutes later to earn a point.
Albania are second in the group after a 1-0 win away to Andorra.
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 in Group F.
Denmark top the group after a 2-0 win away in Israel, while Moldova were held to a 1-1 draw at home by the Faroe Islands.
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