England 1-0 Denmark: Sturridge scores to lift England to victory
England needed a good performance more than the result. After two successive defeats at Wembley, without scoring, a moral-boosting display was required to ease concerns evoked by Chile and Germany. A win it was, moral-boosting also, but anaemic too.
It was an England performance dearth of penetration and purpose for the majority of the match, with Daniel Sturridge's late header scraping the win.
The Liverpool striker was disappointing up until that point, amending for his perplexing positional state as he wasted himself out on the wings with his header past the outstanding Kasper Schmeichel.
While a petition to exclude Tom Cleverley from international duty rises in popularity, one of a similar kind to push Sturridge into a much more central post would have been warmly received, particularly during the first-half.
The Liverpool contingent, five of which started for the first time in 37 years, played a pivotal role. Steven Gerrard was assertive in midfield and set off offensive plays, perhaps with not as much vigour as consistently demonstrated under Brendan Rodgers. Raheem Sterling impressed, doing the most to stake his claim for his place in Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad this summer.
The full-backs were prominent throughout the match, Ashley Cole proving why it was imprudent to discard his experience in such a hasty manner as his intelligent positional sense came into play, most notably when he intercepted William Kvist's long-pass destined for the lurking Nicklas Bendtner. Luke Shaw, who replaced the Chelsea full-back at the interval, was encouraging on his international debut with a superb driven cross and accomplished defensive yield his highlights from a memorable evening.
The Danes's first visit to Wembley since 1994 presented Hodgson with his last opportunity to cast an observant eye over his players before departing for the postcard shores of the Copacabana beach. It was a significant evening for all associated with the English national team. The supporters, players and coaching staff.
While the mosaic created by the England supporters prior to kick-off was creative, the Three Lions' first period display was definitely not. Hodgson's men lacked urgency and purpose as the 45 minutes dragged by.
However, there were a couple of promising moments jammed into those 45, most prominently when Schmeichel threw himself at Sturridge's effort to make the decisive block towards the half's consummation.
It evoked images of his father Peter Schmeichel, who was present here at Wembley, offering his punditry skills to the Danish media.
The Leicester City goalkeeper was once again in the thick of the action, as Rooney failed to profit from Sterling's sublime pass.
That was not the only source of optimism for Hodgson as he headed towards the Wembley tunnel at half-time. His side had conjured up the occasional, surely not frequent, bright attacking move during the opening period. Glen Johnson, as he earned his 50th international cap, provided a menacing outlet on the right hand side along with Reds colleague Sterling, who was lively and injected a positive spark all over the final third.
Sterling was climbing up the steps of the plane with his priceless vibrancy and desire, tracking back to put in a powerful challenge on Emil Larsen.
Rooney's free-kick, a consequence of Sloth's cynical challenge on Gerrard having been dispossessed, curled over the bar to conclude a mediocre first-half performance from the hosts.
In anticipation of the second period, Hodgson withdrew Cole with Shaw his replacement. As the England manager had already confirmed, this was their audition. Baines, barring any unfortunate injuries, will be on the plane to Brazil, most feasibly as first-choice.
The Saints man sprinted onto the pitch, inevitably an emotional moment for the 18 year-old. He paraded his attacking instincts, combining beautifully with Sterling before driving in a dangerous cross.
Adam Lallana replaced the bruised Jack Wilshere, a cause for concern during the first-half. The Arsenal midfielder was forced into tears following an innocent collision with Daniel Agger, clutching his leg in pain. Despite his unease, Wilshere was determined to play on, and for no apparent reason, Hodgson acquiesced.
If Arsene Wenger had been watching, his press conference on Friday is set to spark a debate over a player's priorities.
Joe Hart, despite not having a lot to do, was alert to the danger, stifling substitute Morten Rasmussen's progress through on goal.
As the fans turned to the conduction of Mexican waves for entertainment, it looked as if they would require the professional services of psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters, before England finished strongly.
Danny Welbeck, who came on at the expense of the below-par Rooney, forced Schmeichel to palm his sweet strike on the half turn to safety.
The Danish keeper had no chance on the next attacking move the hosts plotted. Exchanging passes with Sterling on a short corner, Lallana, following some nimble footwork, stood up the perfect cross for Sturridge. The height and power on it met the requirements as the Liverpool striker expertly guided his header past the despairing Schmeichel and into the bottom left hand corner.
The goal masked the frailties shown defensive and attacking wise. Hodgson has a lot to do, in not a lot of time.
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