England manager Fabio Capello last night warned Wayne Rooney he can no longer take his international place for granted after Darren Bent and Ashley Young scored the goals that secured a 2-1 win over Denmark in Copenhagen.
Rooney was a peripheral figure during the 45 minutes he played, while Aston Villa team-mates Bent and Young seized the opportunity to impress ahead of next month's crucial Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales in Cardiff.
The Manchester United striker has managed just one goal in his last 14 games for England, a run that stretches back 17 months. Capello admitted he now has a difficult decision to make in the next month about who to pick for the game at the Millennium Stadium, with Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and hopefully a fit again Andy Carroll competing for places up front.
Although it seems very unlikely that Capello would take such a gamble by dropping Rooney for an important qualifying game, he did say last night that form would be the decisive factor.
Capello said: "I have to have in the future the same players that I know, like Rooney, Bent, Carroll, Defoe, Crouch. I have to decide which one plays depending on what form they're in. There's big competition because all the players can play. It's not easy to choose for me."
Rooney was replaced at half-time by Young, who produced a lively performance that was capped by scoring the winning goal. The Villa player said: "The goal is probably up there with the best of them [in my career]. I came on, did well and as long as I get in the squad I can stake a place."
England responded well after going behind, with Young's Villa team-mate, Darren Bent, scoring for the second consecutive international. Bent agreed that competition for striking places has become fiercer. He said: "There are a lot of good English strikers around. It was only a couple of games ago that Jermain Defoe got a hat-trick so there is big competition. Fabio felt it was right to start me today and I managed to get a goal and was happy with the performance."
The displays of Young and Bent in particular have given Capello food for thought over the coming weeks. Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere was tidy rather than outstanding in his first start for the senior side, while Manchester City's Joe Hart confirmed his hold on the England goalkeeping jersey with two fine saves.
The Italian said he was keen to deploy Young in a free role behind the main striker after being impressed by his club form. The manager said: "In this position he's really good because he's free. He can run where he wants. He has to defend when he has to defend, but he's really fast, technically good, and really dangerous for the opponents. Not only this evening but also when he plays with Aston Villa. He's good with his dribbling, his shooting and his passing."
Capello was also pleased with the way Bent continued to get into goalscoring positions. "Bent scored a goal, and had another two chances to score a second. The man in front of the goal is really important. He was in a good position to score every time," he said.
England started with Wilshere alongside Frank Lampard, who was captain for the night, in the centre of midfield. However, they looked more compact in the second half, when both had been replaced, by Scott Parker and Gareth Barry. Capello said he was unsure whether 19-year-old Wilshere had done enough to confirm his place in the side to face Wales on 26 March.
"It was an interesting debut for Wilshere. It's too early to decide now about Wales, but it was an important game for him and me. He played really well," Capello said.
Wilshere came into the game with the expectation of the nation on his young shoulders, and admitted afterwards that he had been told to rein in his attacking instincts by Capello. "It was great to play for your country and I'm glad my debut was a win. It was a difficult game in midfield and I'm personally pleased with my performance," he said.
"That was quite similar to my role at Arsenal, but just not going forward as much, and playing with the players I was with made it easy. The main thing is that we won. It was a good performance and we can take a lot from the game."