Denmark, who, unlike England, are struggling to qualify, simply cut them to pieces last night. If it had been a fight it would have stopped some time before the end.
England have some extraordinary talent but a less than ordinary sense of team. They remain a collection of celebrities who have yet to suggest that they really know how each other tick. It has been for some years now the worst rebuke to their coach Sven Goran Eriksson, and rarely has it reared up so savagely. This was England's heaviest defeat in 25 years. It was a doomsday performance relieved only by the latest evidence that in Wayne Rooney at least they have a talent which can be relied upon at the highest level.
Rooney plays football at two levels. At one he is committed, intense. At the other he creates his own game, even his own universe. Here at Parken Stadium, in a friendly which at times seemed to have replaced the cauldron of Test cricket with a bottle of tranquillisers, he was, yet again, always the most compelling point of focus.
When Wayne's world is most private he is invariably on the edge of rage or bang in the middle of it. The edge is better for him, and he confirmed this operating status at half-time when he gave the Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovreba a lengthy lecture over the official's tolerance of Danish defensive tactics that Rooney plainly considered less than gentlemanly. He had made the point even more forcibly a little earlier when he flattened the centre-back Daniel Agger, the biggest man on the field.
The England captain David Beckham put an avuncular arm around The Kid's shoulder, but when he spoke he might as well have been addressing the Mermaid statue out in the harbour. Rooney strode off the field stony-faced, grabbing a water bottle without even a passing glance at its provider. Part of his frustration flowed from his conviction that a penalty should have been awarded when one of his barrelling runs into the box ended in a thicket of red jerseys. He was also no doubt made a little agitated by the dawning sense that he might just have to play Denmark largely on his own.
This was confirmed dramatically enough in the 20 or so minutes after half-time when Eriksson's ritual substitutions had the effect of turning a team performance of sporadic competence into a full-scale collapse. To be fair to the Danes, however, they also deserved credit for some midfield play which systematically stripped down an English defence in which Gary Neville's replacement Glen Johnson walked into a full-scale nightmare created by Fulham's Claus Jensen. He is not one of the luminaries of world football, but England contrived to make him look like an extremely bright light indeed.
Goals from Dennis Rommedahl, Jon Dahl Thomasson and Michael Gravgaard, who was winning his first cap, were the engulfing of Eriksson's hope of making a powerful statement in the opening phase of the countdown to next summer's World Cup. The coach was looking for the sense of a settled team playing with authority. What he had to lump was outright disintegration, one so profound that even Jamie Carragher, Liverpool's Champions' League hero, was caught up in the chaos. He replaced John Terry at half-time with his usual commitment and vigour but within minutes he, too, was feeling the strain that began when David James ran from his goal only to be left stranded by Thomasson, who passed into Rommedahl's path for the easiest of goals. Carragher failed to cover Jensen's corner for the third goal. And where was £100,000-a-week Rio Ferdinand in all of this? He was, not for the first time, looking rather lost.
Rooney's goal three minutes from the end, from a pass by Beckham, forlornly underlined the extent of England's dependence on both his drive and his vision. A few minutes earlier he had again expressed his dissatisfaction with events around him, throwing up his arms in another bout of frustration when the ball he was expecting to run on to never arrived. The misshaped pass was from Joe Cole, who at no point produced even a hint of the relevance that was beginning to mark his work for England in the spring.
The final stroke of misery was inflicted by Sven Larsen, who ran beyond Ferdinand, almost casually, and put the ball beyond a now shell-shocked James. He was not alone in that condition. A day after having their chances built up by both Beckham and Eriksson, they were back where they were in the European Championship in Portugal last summer - a state of considerable chaos.
- More about:
- Europa League
- Gary Neville
- Jamie Carragher
- Liverpool FC
- Los Angeles Galaxy
- Manchester United
- Premier League
- Stephen Carter
- Wayne Rooney