Rooney batters Danish defence as Sven's men fall to sucker punch

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Given the climate of suspicion surrounding England players, Wayne Rooney may well find himself asked if he bought a drink before his 18th-birthday celebrations at Aintree, while Joe Cole will be checking whether he actually has a licence for his bulldog, Binny. These, however, should be the only factors preventing their selection for England's next friendly in Portugal.

Rooney's second sport is boxing - they do not care much for rugby in Croxteth - and yesterday he moved with a prize fighter's swagger. His behaviour in the seconds after his shot left his boot to cannon in off the underside of Thomas Sorensen's crossbar were the actions of a boxer who knows his opponent will not get up.

It was his third goal in four matches for England, for whom he has scored more often this season than he has for Everton. Since he laid on the second for Cole and sent a drive smashing against the post in front of the Stretford End, he could hardly have done much more to rescue the game from an exciting yet disciplined Danish side.

"He can learn more but he is already a very mature footballer for his age," said his coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, who began the year as he ended it, with defeat in a friendly. "I am happy we have a talent like that in England." Cole also deserves to be bracketed alongside Rooney. The Conservative Party has had three leaders since Paul Scholes last scored for his country and the manner in which the 22-year-old, playing behind the front two, took his goal, underlines that Eriksson cannot put up with this kind of statistic for much longer.

The England coach reflected that while there was considerable individual talent on display here, collective cohesion was absent, especially once the substitutions began at half-time. The PA announcers attempted to link this match to England's triumph in Sydney by playing their rugby anthem but the moment Eriksson's chariot tried to swing, the wheels came off.

Cole, for instance, was also responsible for the move which triggered Martin Jorgensen's first goal by surrendering possession. "He has to learn things about the game just like Glen Johnson," Eriksson said. "You can talk about Glen Johnson but how many games has he played in the Premier League? Twenty? You can't expect him to know everything. Today they learned that if you make a mistake in international football against a side like Denmark you pay for it but it is better to pay for it in a friendly and give a chance to those young players. It's the right way to do it."

Many would argue that the sheer number of substitutions choked England's progress - when the final whistle blew there was not a member of Eriksson's first-choice team on the pitch. The Denmark manager, Morten Olsen, who was a member of the only other Danish side to overcome England, a defeat which cost Bobby Robson's side a place in the 1984 European Championships, agreed. "The England team, once it changed so many players, was not so well organised. We could play the ball around much easier."

Eriksson thought Olsen and the critics had a point. "You can't expect the team which played the last 20 minutes to be organised, they have never played together and we never practised that formation."

However, yesterday's encounter exposed another feature of England's recent displays which will nag away as the European Championship approaches. Since that 3-0 victory over Denmark in the World Cup last year, England have kept four clean sheets in 15 games - and two of those have come against Liechtenstein.