Zlatan Ibrahimovic made a much-anticipated return to international football but it was Romelu Lukaku who scored a hat trick as Belgium secured a 3-0 win over Sweden in their opening Group F European Championship qualifier on Friday.
The win at the Friends Arena gave new Belgium coach Domenico Tedesco the perfect start as his side seek to bounce back form a disappointing group-stage exit at the Qatar World Cup but Janne Andersson’s Sweden posed little threat.
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Dejan Kulusevski thought he had given the home side the lead in the 15th minute as he cut in from the right and drove a low shot through the legs of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois but Wout Faes was on hand to stop the ball crossing the line.
Lukaku broke the deadlock in the 35th, outjumping Hjalmar Ekdal to head home a cross from the left by Dodi Lukebakio, who had tormented the Sweden defence from the kickoff.
The Belgium striker then took advantage of more slack marking to double his side’s advantage early in the second half as Lukebakio picked him out again with a low cross which he turned in from close range.
The introduction of 41-year-old Ibrahimovic in the 73rd minute after a long absence due to injury prompted an ear-splitting roar from the crowd as the AC Milan striker became the second-oldest player to feature in a European Championship qualifier.
Ibra’s first touch of note came seven minutes later as he chested the ball down in the box but he lost his footing on the notoriously poor pitch at Sweden’s national arena and the chance was snuffed out.
Three minutes later Lukaku killed the game off as the home defence suffered another collective collapse, leaving him with another tap-in to complete his treble and an easy win for the visitors.