Bent and Young deliver polished auditions for roles in England future
Denmark 1 England 2
Thursday 10 February 2011
From the ruins of the World Cup finals in South Africa there has emerged a battle for a stake in England's future which last night became ever more intriguing. Jack Wilshere is the golden child whose accession to a place in the centre of the midfield has felt more like a coronation this week but by this morning there are two more names on the list.
They are Darren Bent and Ashley Young, neither of whom have enjoyed nearly such a gilded path into the national team as Wilshere, but with a goal apiece last night have finally launched their England careers. They have only 20 caps between them and both have had stop-start careers in international football but at last they have given Fabio Capello something to think about.
Chief among those thoughts is whether the England manager could do something dramatic like drop Wayne Rooney, for whom last night was another one of those underwhelming occasions. The striker has scored just one goal for England in 14 games and, while Capello did not commit himself to any one course of action, come the Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales game next month it is no longer unthinkable.
That is what these friendly games lodged in the middle of a frantic domestic fixture list are supposed to do for an England manager: make him think. And for all the hand-wringing about withdrawals and the futility of an international friendly in February there was much last night for Capello to ponder upon.
But first things first, this was a solid England performance that was just about as good as it could have been when absentees are taken into consideration as well as the six substitutions and three different captains. They might not have had the best player on the pitch – that was Denmark's Ajax playmaker Christian Eriksen – but they at least looked like one of European football's bigger beasts again.
It is remarkable to think that England are rated as the sixth best international team in the world by Fifa yet they were beaten so easily in November by France, 13 places beneath them. That was a game which just seemed to restore the despair felt in the summer in South Africa at the lack of progress this team is making. Capello's team needed to give some cause for hope and it was there last night, if you looked hard enough.
Wilshere, restricted to a primarily defensive role which he fulfilled with energy and tidiness, was nevertheless overshadowed by Eriksen in the first half. Eriksen turns 19 only next week and it would have been interesting to see Wilshere granted the same freedoms. As it was, the 19-year-old Englishman did what was asked of him.
If anything the performance of Young in the second half was the most impressive. Under Steve McClaren and Capello he has drifted in and out of squads and did not even make the 30-man provisional squad for the World Cup. Granted the freedom to play in behind Bent as the second striker, he made himself available for the ball and was a threat to Denmark.
As for Bent, he tucked away Theo Walcott's cross after nine minutes in the fashion we have come to expect from Villa's £24m man. When the ball is played into the box, Bent can usually be found in the right place to tuck it away in that split-second window of opportunity. His two goals have come in eight caps across five years – a slow starter who finally seems to have grasped what is being asked of him.
There is no doubt that all England's strikers other than Rooney are playing for the chance to partner the country's most celebrated player but, given how badly the World Cup went with an out-of-sorts Rooney, it is no bad thing that this team are showing they are capable of playing without him.
Capello sends his entire squad back to their clubs this morning without any injuries, an outcome the England manager was keen to stress after the game, given what happened with Steven Gerrard after the friendly against France. Capello laughed when he said that "My relationship with them [Premier League managers] will be good," but it felt like he was relieved too.
With the roof of the Parken Stadium shut and the whole place pumped full of hot air, it felt more like a comfortable pre-season friendly venue than Copenhagen in February. Within seven minutes England were one goal down to a header from Liverpool's Daniel Agger who guided his header from Eriksen's cross just beyond Joe Hart.
By then Rooney had had a tame shot cleared off the line by Martin Jorgensen with goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen stranded. Defensively vulnerable at times, England nevertheless looked good going forward, playing a simple 4-4-2 formation, with plenty of width from Theo Walcott and James Milner, who started on the right and left respectively but switched twice.
The equaliser came two minutes after Agger's goal. Walcott on the right turned Simon Poulsen, the Denmark left-back, inside out and crossed to the far post to Bent. In the process the Arsenal winger was cut under his left eye and later claimed that he had crossed "blind". Given that this was one of his better crosses, perhaps there is a lesson there.
Frank Lampard, who was composed throughout the first half, came off at half-time along with Rooney and Wilshere. On came Scott Parker for just his fourth England cap in the eight years since his debut – you have to go back to March 2006 for his last one. If Capello really is building the next generation of England players, then it would be fair to say that, at 30, Parker will not count on being part of it.
Another half-time substitute, Young, finished sweetly from the excellent ball played inside by Glen Johnson, who had surged forward. He struck his shot just inside the near-post for his first England goal in 12 caps.
As Ashley Cole went off towards the end there was a moment of confusion over should take the captain's armband, inherited from Lampard – with John Terry hovering ominously. We know Terry thinks that it "takes the piss" that he misses out on these captaincy merry-go-rounds but it went to Gareth Barry, proving that some Capello rules cannot be broken.
Denmark (4-4-1-1): Sorensen (Stoke City); Jacobsen (West Ham), Jorgensen (FC Copenhagen), Agger (Liverpool), S Poulsen (Alkmaar); Rommedahl (Olympiakos), C Poulsen (Liverpool), Kvist (FC Copenhagen)' Krohn-Dehli (Brondby); Eriksen (Ajax); Bendtner (Arsenal). Substitutes Silberbauer (Utrecht) for Jacobsen, 60; Kjaer (Wolfsburg) for Jorgensen, h-t; Pedersen (Groningen) for Krohn-Delhi, 70; Wass (Brondby) for S Poulsen, h-t; Enevoldsen (Groningen) for Rommedahl, 81; Vingaard (FC Copenhagen) for Kvist, 90. Booked Kjaer.
England (4-4-2): Hart (Manchester City); Johnson (Liverpool), Dawson (Tottenham), Terry (Chelsea), A Cole (Chelsea); Walcott (Arsenal), Wilshere (Arsenal), Lampard (Chelsea), Milner (Man City); Rooney (Man United), Bent (Aston Villa). Substitutes Parker (West Ham) for Wilshere, h-t; Barry (Man City) for Lampard h-t; A Young (Aston Villa) for Rooney, h-t; Cahill (Bolton) for Dawson, 60; Downing (Aston Villa) for Walcott, 67; Baines (Everton) for Cole, 81
Referee J Eriksson (Sweden).
Match rating 6/10.
Man of the match Eriksen.
Parker's exclusive club
4 Scott Parker is the first Englishman to have won his first four caps with four clubs: Charlton, Chelsea, Newcastle and West Ham.
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