Source AP ©

Sweden beats European champion, Greece, 2-0

No team has ever won back-to-back European Championship titles, and it doesn't look like Greece will be the first.

The defensive strategy that stunned Europe four years ago backfired as the defending champions lost to Sweden 2-0 Tuesday.

Greece spent big chunks of the match rolling the ball in the defensive line, seemingly content to settle for a scoreless draw. When Zlatan Ibrahimovic put Sweden ahead in the 67th minute, the Greeks were unable to regroup.

Greece, which had not allowed a goal at the tournament in 425 minutes, gave up another goal six minutes later, sending the Swedish section of the Wals-Siezenheim stadium into a wild roar.

"We had a bad night and a bad game," Greece striker Georgios Samaras said. "We still believe in ourselves and we have to put tonight behind us."

Greece coach Otto Rehhagel said his team underperformed and didn't play with enough heart. He will need to tighten his vaunted defense if the surprise champions from four years ago are to avoid a humbling first-round exit this time.

Ibrahimovic scored with a powerful shot from the edge of the penalty box after a give-and-go with strike partner Henrik Larsson. Greece goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis threw himself to the right and got a finger on the ball but it sailed into his upper right corner of the goal.

"I saw the opening to the left and that's where I put it," said Ibrahimovic, who was named man of the match. "It was a fantastic feeling."

It was the Inter Milan striker's first goal for Sweden since Oct. 12, 2005, when Sweden beat Iceland 3-1 in a World Cup qualifier. Ibrahimovic has now scored 19 goals in 51 matches for Sweden.

The last time the Greeks gave up a goal at the continental tournament was in its final group game in 2004, a 2-1 loss to Russia

Hansson doubled the lead for Sweden in the 72nd, picking up a rebound off a shot from Fredrik Ljungberg and bundling his way past two defenders to roll the ball over the line. The central defender had nearly given Greece the lead seven minutes earlier when he headed Traianos Dellas' cross dangerously close to the Swedish goal.

Sweden will next face Group D favorite Spain, which routed Russia 4-1 in Innsbruck.

"The players did an excellent job," Sweden coach Lars Lagerback said. "I think we deserved to win 100 percent."

The Greeks, starting with seven players from the winning Euro 2004 squad, mounted a late challenge to come back into the match. but a disciplined Swedish defense kept them at bay.

Vassilis Torossidis had the best opportunity when he rushed toward the goal after intercepting a misguided pass from Daniel Andersson, but Sweden goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson stopped his low shot with his right leg.

Sweden winger Christian Wilhemsson, who tested the Greek defense with well-timed runs down the flanks, was carried off the field in the second half after pulling his left hamstring. Lagerback said Wilhemsson could miss Sweden's upcoming matches against Spain and Russia.

"It's really sad both for the team and Christian," he said.

The match got off to an uninspired start with both teams more concerned about keeping a tight defense than producing scoring opportunities.

For much of the first half, the defending champions just rolled the ball in the back for, drawing whistles from the Swedish section of the 30,000-seat stadium.

Ibrahimovic had Sweden's best chance before halftime, heading the ball over the crossbar with his back toward the goal.

Isaksson easily stopped two attempts by Angelos Charisteas but struggled to clear a bouncing shot from Greece captain Angelos Basinas. The Greeks wasted a series of erratic high balls toward isolated striker Fanis Gekas, who was replaced at halftime by Georgios Samaras.

Lagerback fielded an experienced lineup, with seven starters older than 30, including Henrik Larsson and fullback Niclas Alexandersson, both 36.

Sweden, in its fifth consecutive major championship, next plays Group D favorite Spain while Greece takes on Russia. Spain crushed the Russians 4-1 earlier Tuesday after a hat trick by David Villa.