The Zlatan Ibrahimovic-Gareth Bale showdown never materialised on an afternoon when Wales’s first and last warm-up match before the European Championship finals in France ended in a chastening defeat.
Emil Forsberg and Mikael Lustig scored Sweden’s first two goals to leave Wales, and Bale in particular, far too much to do to turn the game around in the closing 25 minutes.
That was roughly how long Bale spent on the pitch and it is no surprise that his introduction coincided with Wales’s best period of the game. Unfortunately for Wales, the damage was already done and to compound their misery John Guidetti, once of Manchester City, came off the bench to add a third three minutes from time.
Ashley Williams was at fault for that goal, his poor error of judgment when trying to deal with a long ball over the top capitalised on by Guidetti, who got away from the Wales captain far too easily and beat Daniel Ward with a low shot that the keeper got a good hand to but was unable to keep out.
With Bale among the substitutes, along with Joe Ledley, Joe Allen and Hal Robson-Kanu, this was by no means Chris Coleman’s strongest side, yet it was neither a result, nor a performance, to give them encouragement before Saturday’s opening group game against Slovakia in Bordeaux. They never looked comfortable at the back and Lustig’s goal was the fifth in seven games that Wales have conceded from a set piece. It must have been a relief to the Wales players when Ibrahimovic and Forsberg, the highly impressive RB Leipzig winger, departed early in the second half to give them some respite.
Ibrahimovic looked as if he was in the mood to enjoy himself from the outset. He nutmegged Chris Gunter on the edge of the area inside the first minute and David Vaughan fell victim to the same trick before half-time. In between those two moments of skill, Sweden’s talisman created the opening goal with a lovely piece of play on the left flank.
With a sumptuous touch Ibrahimovic nicked a ball that was floated over his head beyond Ashley Williams. The Swansea defender retreated and chased Ibrahimovic into the left channel, along with James Chester, and David Vaughan was also sucked towards the ball, oblivious to anything happening behind him. Ibrahimovic picked just the right moment to roll a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Forsberg, who swept a low, right-footed shot from just outside the area into the corner of the net.
The lead was no more than Sweden deserved at the end of a first half in which Wales never troubled their opponents as an attacking force. Jonny Williams made some darting runs and showed some neat touches in an advanced role alongside Aaron Ramsey but with Bale on the bench there was no goal threat.
Ibrahimovic was giving Chester, Ashley Williams and Ben Davies, the three-man Wales defence that Coleman will almost certainly start with at Euro 2016, plenty to think about. A free header was not far off-target in the seventh minute and the man whose every touch was accompanied with a buzz of excitement whipped another effort narrowly wide.
Wales were unable to gain any control of the game and the situation became worse at the start of the second half. Marcus Berg got away from Ashley Williams and lobbed the ball over the head of Ward, a half-time replacement for Wayne Hennessey. Chester, stretching every sinew, just managed to hook the ball off the line and clear.
Sweden were playing with more and more confidence, and the home team produced the best move of the game nine minutes into the second half. Ibrahimovic, inevitably, was involved, feeding Sebastian Larsson on the edge of the area. Larsson’s intelligent first-time ball picked out Forsberg, who squared for Lustig to strike a low shot that Davies did well to block.
A reprieve for Wales – but only a temporary one. Three minutes later Lustig was celebrating after Wales were once again exposed in a deal-ball situation. Towering above Chester, Lustig saw his downward header from Kim Kallstrom’s corner cleared off the line by Neil Taylor but was able to get to the rebound first and turned the ball home. Wales rallied in the closing stages when Emyr Huws, with a fine run down the left, created a half-chance for Bale but the Real Madrid forward was unable to reach the ball first. Guidetti did not have the same problem as Sweden signed off for France in style.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010