There are many people who wish England versus Denmark had never happened.
The humiliated Alan Smith, obviously. James Beattie and Nicky Butt, whose forgotten misdemeanours have been exposed again, definitely. Almost certainly, the Football Association which finds itself once more in the middle of a self-laid minefield without a map. Possibly David Moyes, whose Everton side, already in the relegation zone, could do without risking Wayne Rooney, who has just recovered from a bout of flu. You could include the Denmark manager, Morten Olsen, who thought Sven Goran Eriksson would make so many changes tomorrow that the contest would be rendered meaningless.
For others, unsure of their place in Eriksson's grand design, Old Trafford will appear a forbidding venue as 4pm on Sunday approaches. For Beattie, assuming the new, puritanical FA resists the temptation to send him home for failing a breath test, for Joe Cole, Glen Johnson and Matthew Upson, this will be the pitch on which to state their case for the European Championship.
And possibly for John Terry. He is not a fringe player in the way his likely partner, Upson, is. The Chelsea centre-half has started the last four matches under Eriksson and will certainly start a fifth against Denmark but, with Rio Ferdinand's future so uncertain, there is a likelihood he could become England's first choice in the heart of the defence before too long.
Terry admires Ferdinand: "Any time Manchester United is on the television, he is the player I watch. I try to learn things from his game and put them into mine." However, the cold fact is that the partnership between Sol Campbell and Ferdinand, which appeared so solid in Japan, has only been used once in England's qualifying campaign for the European Championship, in the 2-0 victory over Turkey at Sunderland. When the return came in Istanbul last month, Terry was at the centre of another clean sheet.
"If I can put a little doubt into his [Eriksson's] mind, then it's going to be good for me," he said. "The Turkey experience was great. There was a little bit of added pressure on me because of all the hype around Rio at the time. I knew if I did make a mistake, it would have been all about 'Rio wouldn't have made that sort of mistake' and things like that. But I knew if I got my chance I could prove myself."
Terry does not need to prove too much. His displays for Chelsea in both Premiership and Champions' League have been highly polished in an area where even "the Tinkerman", his club manager Claudio Ranieri, has been reluctant to make too many changes.
For Beattie things are entirely different. When Darius Vassell withdrew from the England squad with a knee injury, sustained while playing a friendly for Aston Villa in Dubai, joining Smith and Michael Owen on the sidelines, the number of fit and available strikers appeared alarmingly thin. Emile Heskey is a known quantity. He will run until his lungs burn, he will come off bathed in sweat and, given that this is a meaningless fixture, he might just score. But at Liverpool patience is wearing thin and the frustrations of his manager, Gérard Houllier, were never nearer the surface than when he fell over rather than drive Danny Murphy's measured pass into the back of Manchester United's net last Sunday.
Rooney's form for Everton has dipped - Beattie, with seven Premiership goals, has scored more than him, Heskey and Vassell put together - and who knows in what guise the 18-year-old might turn up tomorrow? The outstandingly mature figure who shone against the Turks at Sunderland; or the lost boy, hauled off embarrassingly early against the Slovaks at Middlesbrough? The absence of Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes, two of the players Kieron Dyer dubbed "the famous four", whom the Newcastle midfielder thought certain of their places, gives opportunities to others. Sadly for Dyer, since he is also injured, the main beneficiary is likely to be Joe Cole.
Despite Olsen's misgivings, Denmark are a good choice to test England. They faced a tighter and more difficult group than Eriksson's side, one in which four nations were separated by two points, although their two most recent qualifiers, against Romania and, more surprisingly, Bosnia, were drawn. In both they were outplayed.
Phil Neville thought them unlucky to have encountered an England side at the peak of their form in Niigata during the World Cup. Thomas Sorensen, a goalkeeper good enough to have saved successive penalties from Alan Shearer, gifted them the first goal and was probably at fault for the third, scored by Heskey a minute before half-time.
Like Terry, Cole and Johnson, Sorensen will not be taking tomorrow's friendly easily. It is, after all, a chance of redemption. "The first goal against England in the World Cup was two seconds out of the whole season but you get remembered for those two seconds," Sorensen reflected. But that, sadly, is the lot of all goalkeepers.
- More about:
- Chelsea F.c.
- John Terry
- Matthew Upson
- Premier League
- Rio Ferdinand
- Sven-goran Eriksson