Chance for Bent to solve England's striking dilemma
Darren Bent, recently transferred from Sunderland to Aston Villa, has moved ahead of the other contenders to partner Wayne Rooney in England's attack. With Andy Carroll injured, he will start Wednesday's friendly against Denmark in Copenhagen alongside – or just in front of – the Manchester United man. United's Rio Ferdinand has withdrawn and there are call-ups for the Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale, West Ham's Scott Parker and the Aston Villa full-back Kyle Walker.
After a young, experimental side were well beaten by France in November, when half a dozen regulars were not available, Fabio Capello wants to use this game as serious preparation for the next European Championship tie, when England try to emulate their rugby union counterparts in the Millennium Stadium on 26 March. He is offering Bent the chance to make a striker's role his own, something he conspicuously failed to do while earning his seven previous caps.
Twice last season he started alongside Rooney, against Brazil and Japan, but did not impress. Being brought off at half-time against Japan in the final World Cup warm-up match confirmed that he would not be taken to South Africa; Jermain Defoe was preferred. But this season the Tottenham man has been short of goals whereas Bent has, as usual, been prolific.
Capello says he has become more of an all-rounder rather than a mere finisher. Since his early days at Ipswich, Bent has been a predator playing right up against the last defender. The manager said: "After seven months the situation is completely different. Before, he was only playing for the box. Now he is a player who can play for the team. This is important. When I choose the player, I choose him for the team. When I speak with different managers about their players – they know something more – all the managers told me Bent is a fantastic player in the box but not outside. I told him he had to change. He had to work a lot, press a lot. Probably he changed something in his mind, not only the style."
He has two goals in his first three games after his £24m move to Villa, where he is well served by his fellow internationals Ashley Young and Stewart Downing. If Capello had doubts about Bent, he has always believed in Rooney: "I have spoken with Sir Alex Ferguson. He says he is playing really well but for him it will be important to score goals."
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, who has sat out four games since his debut, will be tried as a holding man, probably at Gareth Barry's expense. "It is not the position he prefers, he prefers to go forward," Capello said. "But one of the midfielders has to stay back."
Joe Hart, under pressure for his place at Manchester City, is likely to keep the keeper's jersey and the defence, pulled apart with embarrassing ease by France, should be back to full strength apart from Ferdinand's absence. With City's Adam Johnson one of the only other players ruled out so far, the tactical options are varied, depending partly on how Steven Gerrard is deployed: 4-1-4-1, 4-1-3-2 or 4-2-3-1 are all possible.
England squad Foster (Birmingham), Hart (Manchester City), Stockdale (Fulham); Baines (Everton), Cahill (Bolton), A Cole (Chelsea), Dawson (Tottenham), G Johnson (Liverpool), Lescott (Manchester City), Terry (Chelsea), Walker (Aston Villa); Barry (Manchester City), Downing (Aston Villa), Gerrard (Liverpool), Lampard (Chelsea), Milner (Manchester City), Parker (West Ham), Walcott (Arsenal), Wilshere (Arsenal), A Young (Aston Villa); Agbonlahor (Aston Villa), D Bent (Aston Villa), Crouch (Tottenham), Defoe (Tottenham), Rooney (Manchester Utd).
Denmark v England is on ITV1 on Wednesday, kick-off 7.15pm
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