Daniel Sturridge struck a late header to help England avoid another disappointing result at Wembley against Denmark.
England 1 - 0 Denmark
Scorer: Sturridge (82)
Sturridge leapt high to head home Adam Lallana’s cross with eight minutes left of what was otherwise an uninspiring 1-0 win. This match was billed as a grand audition for England’s fringe players to prove to Roy Hodgson that they deserved a place on the plane to Brazil.
For the most part it was something of an anti-climax as England lacked purpose and a cutting edge in the first half in particular.
When Cesare Prandelli looks at the tape of the first 45 minutes of this encounter at Wembley, the Italy coach will hardly be quaking in his boots.
But Hodgson had always earmarked this game as one to experiment, so a little leeway should be given to the England manager.
The first half experiment of deploying Sturridge out wide did not work, though.
The striker, scorer of 32 goals in 39 games while playing as a main frontman, was inexplicably positioned on the left wing.
It was only when Sturridge was moved into the centre after the break that he had the biggest impact, and his goal was a superb poacher’s effort.
Other positives should be taken too. Raheem Sterling hit a post and won the man of the match award. Luke Shaw did not look out of place when he came off the bench to make his debut at left-back, but Ashley Cole also put in a very impressive 45 minutes for the home side.
But the feeling remains that Hodgson still has a lot of work to do with his players by the time England’s World Cup opener against Italy takes place on 14 June. The 68,573-strong Wembley crowd managed to replicate the atmosphere of Sunday’s League Cup final following a touching minute’s applause to Sir Tom Finney. But neither team responded and a dull first half unfolded.
Hodgson’s suspect line-up did not help. Sturridge, one of five Liverpool players in the home team, started wide and just nine minutes in he was stationed at left-back, defending Lars Jacobsen’s cross.
The only flash point in the opening 15 minutes came when Daniel Agger caught Jack Wilshere’s left ankle in a challenge. The midfielder slammed the turf in agony, and Hodgson came to the touchline looking concerned, but after two minutes’ worth of treatment, the Arsenal man was fine to carry on.
Denmark barely ventured over the halfway line, but England offered little down the other end either.
Steven Gerrard pinched the ball off Casper Sloth, but the defender took the England captain down before he could shoot.
Sloth was issued with a yellow card and, had it not been a friendly, he could have seen red. It did not matter much anyway as Wayne Rooney put the resulting free-kick high and wide of goal. Rooney pierced the back four with a clever run, but Kasper Schmeichel came to the rescue. The goalkeeper then stood carefree as Gary Cahill’s volley sailed over.
Joe Hart was called into action for the first time after half an hour to collect a long ball over the top before Nicklas Bendtner could finish.Hodgson re-jigged his team at the interval with Shaw replacing Cole. Sturridge also swapped places with Rooney, but England could still not find a cutting edge.
Boos rang out as Rooney was replaced by Danny Welbeck. England’s other substitute, Lallana, showed promise with a clever turn which fooled two Danish defenders, but there was still no threat to Schmeichel.Just as some supporters started heading for the exits, Sturridge won the game for England.
Sterling found Lallana with a short corner and the Southampton midfielder lifted a delightful chip into the box which Sturridge converted. It was just his third England goal. The relief inside was palpable as Sturridge swayed his hips in celebration.
However, if England are to enjoy the Samba in Brazil this summer they will have to play much better.
England: Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Smalling, Cole, Wilshere, Henderson, Gerrard, Sterling, Rooney, Sturridge. Subs: Shaw, Ruddy, Foster, Forster, Baines, Caulker, Carrick, Milner, Lampard, Barkley, Cleverley, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Townsend, Lambert, Defoe, Welbeck, Rodriguez.
Denmark: Schmeichel, Sloth, Agger, Kjaer, P Ankersen, Jorgensen, Jacobsen, Poulsen, Krohn-Delhi, Larsen, Bendtner. Subs: Andersen, Lossl, Kahlenberg, Bjelland, Kusk, Olsen, Zimling, Rasmussen, Delaney, J Ankersen, Juelsgaard, Christoffersen.
Referee: K Blom (Ned)