By Stephen Kirchner
It was 2012. Sweden was playing England in a brand new stadium.
Steven Gerrard was winning his 100th cap, while Steven Caulker, Leon Osman, and Raheem Sterling all got their first for England. But the night belonged instead to the captain in yellow, the 31-year-old Ibrahamovic.
It was the 90th minute. The great Zlatan had already scored a hat-trick. The first inside the penalty area, the second from the same. A third came on a long free kick. He had already put his country out in front, 3-2. But the 4th was a thing of legend, an ode to the beautiful game.
Leighton Baines was pushing the ball forward for England, making a last push down the left-hand side. Pushed in the back, Baines stumbled, but the referee showed a blind and uncaring eye. The Swedish winger knew the end of the game was near, and so simply put his laces through the ball, sending it in a high arc toward the England penalty area. Hart, the English keeper, ran to meet the ball, readying to take hold one last time for a counterattack. But the ball, that little she-devil, had other plans than monotony. She hung too high and too long for Hart, and at the edge of his box, he was forced to head it away to safety; Ibrahimovic was closing in for the kill.
Hart’s header traveled towards the left-hand touchline, high and spinning. Ibrahimovic stopped, turned neatly, and flew alongside the ball as she went. When she stopped to say hello, Ibrahimovic politely returned the greeting. With his back to the goal, springing off his left foot, he caressed the ball with his right. None were close enough to see what he said to her, but she jumped off his right boot gracefully. Off it went, back toward the goal, in no hurry at all to get there. The ball and Zlatan knew no one could stop it; the English center backs and Hart could only watch in dismay. The ball bounced right over the line and into the back of the net, a perfect chilena, and a soccer strike of a bygone age. 30 yards.
50,000 fans couldn’t believe it; the Swedes lost their minds, and the British travelling fans applauded on their feet. It was the sort of goal even the opposition had to love and admire, just like Hart and his back line did. The British commentator asked deliriously if he could give Ibrahimovic a man hug.
The Zlatan does what he does, and he continues to do it. In a soccer world of convention and formation and defensive tactics, he reminds us that there is always a better way to strike the ball, and a better way to get her to play along with your whims.
Video of Ibrahimovic Bicycle Kick against England, 11.14.2012
Clark, Gill. “Sweden – England.” Sweden 4. Goal.com, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. <http://www.goal.com/en/match/sweden-vs-england/1395161/report>.
Ornstein, David. “Sweden 4-2 England.” BBC Sport. BBC, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/20306158>.
“Sweden Vs England 4-2 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic Unbelievable Bicycle Goal with Stan Collymore Commentary.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzvQCbdAIZQ>.