Greece stunned the world four years ago when, inspired by veteran coach Otto Rehhagel, they lifted their first silverware with a win over hosts Portugal in the final.
But although they qualified for this year’s event in style – having between-times missed out on the World Cup finals in 2006 – they laboured to create much in the way of real chances against the Swedes and a repeat win does not appear on the cards.
Ibrahimovic, after netting his first international goal in three years, a piledriver, was jubilant.
“It was a difficult match, especially for the strikers, as the Greeks defended well.
“We did fantastically and played with intelligence. The important thing was to get the three points.”
Swedish coach Lars Lagerbäck praised his side’s efforts to break down a physical rival.
“We knew the Greeks were likely to string five across the back and were physically strong. It’s great to have won the first match – our defence in particular was exemplary.”
Sweden appeared hesitant in the first 45 minutes in Salzburg but their strong midfield snuffed out what little threat their rivals showed and then they hit their stride with two goals in quick succession.
The opener after 67 minutes of stalemate was a real belter.
Inter Milan star Ibrahimovic smashed in a superlative drive on the half-volley past keeper Antonis Nikopolidis and into the corner of the net following a neat flick on from the evergreen Henrik Larsson, three months off his 37th birthday and now his country’s oldest player to appear in the tournament.
Ibrahimovic’s celebration was almost as fizzing, his joy palpable given that it was his first goal in his past 15 internationals, the drought extending back to an October 2005 World Cup qualifier against Iceland.
Rehhagel’s reaction, in contrast, was to grimace and hold his head in his hands.
“The first half didn’t go as we planned – we didn’t play high enough up the
pitch and then we lost Ibrahimovic for a moment, which left us a goal down,”
snorted Rehhagel afterwards.
“We will have to show a tougher side of us in the next match.”
Minutes before his spectacular strike, Ibrahimovic had not quite hit the target, his header spinning just over after Freddie Ljungberg had swept a tantalizing cross into the box.
Five minutes later, Hansson bundled home the second 18 minutes from time with Nikopolidis nowhere with the Greek defence all at sea after Ljungberg had seen an initial effort saved.
Ironically, seconds before the Swedes took the lead Hansson had almost scored an own goal as he nodded a Traianos Dellas cross from the right perilously close to his own net.
The Greeks, stunned by the opener, had no answer and with an effervescent Spain, as well as unpredictable Russia, to come, they will struggle to make the last eight on this evidence.
Angelos Charisteas, hero of the hour in the final four years ago for the Greeks in Lisbon, had a miserable time of it with two early half-chances going begging as the Swedish back line gave nothing away .