England 1 Denmark 0 - comment: Ashley Cole shows class while Luke Shaw owns the future

Roy Hodgson's decision on who will join Leighton Baines wasn't made any easier last night

Wembley

As this match kicked off an advertisement flashed up on the advertising hoarding running around Wembley's middle tiers: “Win a trip to Brazil”.

On the pitch Ashley Cole and Luke Shaw were about to enter a two-man competition for that prize. Roy Hodgson had appeared to indicate Leighton Baines was on the plane, and either Cole or Shaw would join him. Cole, winning his 107th cap, went first, playing the opening half. Shaw, at 18 the younger man by 15 years, played the second half, his debut in an England shirt.

It is a long time since Cole had to audition for England, 13 years. Back in 2001 Cole was even more of a tyro selection than Shaw. At 20 he was older than Shaw is, but Cole had only half-a-season in the Championship on loan to Crystal Palace, and a dozen Premier League games with Arsenal behind him. Shaw has played 50 matches in the top flight. Cole had however, played seven times in the Champions League including home and away ties against Bayern Munich. It was a performance in Munich that persuaded Sven Goran Eriksson to pitch him into a World Cup qualifier in Albania. Cole replaced Chris Powell, now the Charlton manager, who been Eriksson's first left-back. Powell was an unexpected choice, and at 31 clearly a stop-gap, but acquitted himself well enough that there no clamour for a replacement.

But Eriksson decided Cole was the future and picked him in Tirana ahead of Phil Neville. It was an intimidating atmosphere - Cole was himself hit by a cigarette lighter thrown from the crowd - but he gave a composed performance. Until this season Cole has been first choice ever since. He has subsequently represented England at three World Cups and two European Championships, playing all 22 games in those tournaments. The stand-out performances have been against Cristiano Ronaldo, notably in Lisbon at Euro 2004.

 

Great is an over-used adjective in football but Cole qualifies. In the half-century in which England have been playing with a recognisable back four only Ray Wilson and Kenny Sansom have been in the same class. But ankle injuries have been a problem in recent years and, this season, Jose Mourinho has dropped him for Cesar Azpilicueta, a right-back. Cole has not played since January and started only one Premier League game since facing Shaw's Southampton on New Year's Day. He needed this game to prove he was still up to the task as much as Shaw needed it to show he was ready.

In the circumstances it would have been helpful if Denmark's right flank had been occupied by, say Dennis Rommedahl in his electrifyingly fast pomp. Instead Cole faced Emil Larsen, and Shaw encountered Kasper Kusk. Both were 22-year-olds still playing in the domestic league and winning their fifth cap.

Still, both are well regarded and expected to move to the major European leagues soon. More of a problem was England's dominance of possession. This gave the pair few opportunities to show their defensive abilities, an aspect of the game at which Cole is probably stronger than Shaw - or Baines. This matters. Left-back is no longer the position the worst player is dumped at, since Roberto Carlos revolutionised the role, and the centre of the pitch became more congested, full-backs have become key attacking players, but to progress in a World Cup England will need to be solid defensively.

Shaw shows promise defensively, but it is his forward play which has caught the eye. Athletic, strong, quick and good on the ball he wasted no time getting into advanced positions, going past opponents and linking well with team-mates. Particularly impressive was the fact he did not try to do too much. It would have been understandable if, in the circumstances, he had tried to make a mark and over-indulged. Instead he attacked opponents when it was on, and passed when it was not.

Ashley Cole will hope that his experience counts in his favour (Getty) Ashley Cole will hope that his experience counts in his favour (Getty)
It was Cole, though, who came closest to making a goal. He was as eager to overlap as Shaw and midway through the opening period ran onto Wayne Rooney's pass and crossed low across the box only for Raheem Sterling, under pressure, to turn the ball against the far post.

As a trial it was thus inconclusive making Hodgson choice, as he admitted afterwards, even tougher. “I thought both were very good,” he added. “Ashley got forward well, his defending was good, Luke carried on in the same way.

“There is a lot of football to be played and I will be seeing a lot of Luke and Leighton Baines in the next few months, and hopefully, Ashley.”

Hodgson was not, he said, surprised by the sharpness of Cole performance despite his lack of first team action. “In training he has been unbelievable. He's very fit - he's right at the top of the running statistics if you put much store by those things (Hodgson does not).”

The final decision on Shaw will probably come down to whether Hodgson decides the long-term benefit of taking the teenager to a major tournament outweighs the short-term risk of his needing to play due to an injury to the senior player - and Hodgson, post-match, seemed to indicate Baines does not even have a place on the plane secured. If Hodgson feels that is not a risk, that Shaw would not let him down, then Shaw must go.

But spare a thought for the last man to wear England's No.3 prior to this match, the one who finished in possession of the shirt at the end of the November defeat to Germany. It was Kieran Gibbs, who seems destined to suffer not only from being prone to injury, but from playing in an era when England are spoilt for choice in his position.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most