Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 41-year-old Sweden striker, on Friday became the second-oldest player to feature in a qualifier for the Euros, but his landmark night ended in a sobering 3-0 defeat to Belgium.
Ibrahimovic came on as a 73rd-minute substitute in the Euro 2024 group game in Solna.
The star, born on Oct. 3, 1981, was initially hailed as the oldest man to take part in a European qualifier, but it then emerged that Gibraltar striker Lee Casciaro, born on Sept. 29, 1981, had taken the record in his team’s match against Greece, which Greece won 3-0.
At 41 years, 5 months, 21 days, Ibrahimovic is still ahead of former Italy goalkeeper Dino Zoff, who played against Sweden on May 29, 1983, at 41 years, 3 months, 1 day.
AC Milan’s Ibrahimovic last weekend became the oldest player to score a goal in Serie A history.
Earlier this week, he said that he wants to play at the Euro finals in Germany next year, when he would be 42 and the oldest player to ever participate in the tournament.
However, he faces a tough battle to satisfy that ambition.
Romelu Lukaku bagged a hat-trick to give new Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco a winning start after succeeding Roberto Martinez.
“Those are three very important points. Taking three points and scoring three goals in Sweden is never easy for any team,” Tedesco said. “Winning is always the best thing to unite a group. As for my selection choices — the boys have shown that I wasn’t wrong.”
Inter striker Lukaku opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark, glancing Dodi Lukebakio’s cross into the far corner. Lukebakio also created Lukaku’s second of the night.
Substitute Johan Bakayoko turned provider for Lukaku’s third with seven minutes remaining as Belgium recorded a 15th successive European qualifying win.
“There were three 19-year-olds out there today. Others in their early 20s,” said Bakayoko, himself just 19. “Stars were talking and laughing with everyone. A new generation is coming.”
In Paris, Kylian Mbappe marked his first game as France captain with two goals and an assist as the FIFA World Cup finalists romped to a 4-0 win against a depleted Netherlands side.
Mbappe has succeeded long-standing France skipper Hugo Lloris and the new era got off to a flying start as the Paris Saint-Germain superstar set up pink-haired Antoine Griezmann to score inside two minutes.
Dayot Upamecano bundled in the second goal in the eighth minute and Mbappe got his name on the scoresheet to make it 3-0 before the midway point in the first half.
Mbappe wrapped up the victory in emphatic fashion with two minutes remaining, before the Netherlands’ Memphis Depay had a stoppage-time penalty saved by goalkeeper Mike Maignan.
It was ruthless efficiency from Didier Deschamps’ side against a Netherlands team missing several key players after a virus swept through their squad.
At least their toughest assignment in qualifying from Group B is now out of the way and their next game is at home against Gibraltar tomorrow.
France now visit the Republic of Ireland, but it is going to take something remarkable for them to fail to qualify for next year’s Euros given that the top two teams in each group go through.
“We didn’t want to disappoint our fans. This was our first game back here after the World Cup and we really wanted to pick up where we left off there, except for the final,” Mbappe told broadcaster TF1.
Of his own game, Mbappe added: “I try to do my job, be decisive and bring everyone else with me. It worked well today, but this is just the beginning so let’s not get carried away.”
In Friday’s other results, Montenegro beat Bulgaria 1-0, Moldova and the Faroe Islands drew 1-1, Serbia defeated Lithuania 2-0, Austria trounced Azerbaijan 4-1 and the Czech Republic downed Poland 3-1.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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