It was 2012. Astrologists had predicted that the world would end, but the Mayans could not have predicted Zlatan. No one could. England was playing Sweden in a match that followed a disappointing quarterfinals knockout to Italy in the European Championships. The match was regarded formally as an international friendly, but Zlatan had other plans.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic opened the scoring with a toe-poke that followed his own blocked shot.
You should never give Zlatan two chances. He usually only needs one.
Ten minutes before half-time, England equalized with a tap-in from Danny Welbeck off a cross from Ashley Young. It was only a few minutes later that England took the lead with another tap-in by Steven Caulker off a free kick from captain Steven Gerrard, who was enjoying his 100th international appearance (Miller 1).
With twelve minutes to go, the game looked about won from England. They were maintaining possession, and the traveling crowd had been raucously mocking the Swedish captain for being a second-rate Andy Carroll (Brassell 3). That was until the one who had once described himself as a Ferrari decided to hit the accelerator and never look back (Surlis 4).
After sneaking shrewdly past two defenders and taking Ander Svensson’s lofted through ball on the chest, Zlatan volleyed the ball into the left corner of the net. He then completed his hat trick with a 30-yard free kick into the opposite corner.
Then it happened.
Leading by one with a couple minutes of stoppage time remaining, a Swedish midfielder cleared the ball all the way to English goalkeeper Joe Hart, whose day was about to get a whole lot worse. The ball bounced a few yards outside the box, which forced Hart to head the ball high up and away in fear of the incoming predator. The lion had grown restless, and three juicy victims had been insufficient at quenching his insatiable hunger. As the ball fell, the lion could only think about how it would ferociously devour its prey. Eyes fixated on the ball, Zlatan ran back towards the ball with his back facing the goal and the entirety of English supporters, most unconcerned about the feasibility of a goal from such a distance, angle, and height. Before the ball could land, the lion struck. Leaping off his right leg, Zlatan swung his left leg and arms up in the air, leveraging the momentum of his body to flip 180 degrees. The right leg that followed brought with it a force cascading from his entire body, as the ball stroked the middle of his laces and glided gracefully in a parabolic motion towards the English goal. The English defenders and Hart could only stand and watch helplessly as Zlatan recovered quickly enough to see the ball land in the back of the net. A defender slid into the goal in a desperate attempt to save England’s inevitable doom, but he was unable to reach the ball. The impossible had been accomplished in one of the most memorable goals of the century.
One could not help but remember Unzaga’s chilena on the field at Talcahuana. This time, however, it was 30 yards from goal (Ornstein 2).
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s famous 30-yard bicycle kick vs England
Brassell, Andy. “Remembering the Night Zlatan Destroyed England 5 Years On.” Bleacher Report, 14 Nov. 2017, bleacherreport.com/articles/2744039-remembering-the-night-zlatan-destroyed-england-five-years-on.
Miller, Nick. “Reliving Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Wonder Goal against England Five Years Later.” ESPN, 14 Nov. 2017, www.espn.com/soccer/blog/espn-fc-united/68/post/3268580/reliving-zlatan-ibrahimovics-wonder-goal-against-england-five-years-later.
Ornstein, David. “Sweden 4-2 England.” BBC, 14 Nov. 2012, www.bbc.com/sport/football/20306158.
Surlis, Patrick. “Zlatan Ibrahimovic v Pep Guardiola: Their Relationship in Quotes.” Sky Sports, Sky Sports, 8 Sept. 2016, www.skysports.com/football/news/11096/10565895/zlatan-ibrahimovic-v-pep-guardiola-their-relationship-in-quotes.