Daniel Sturridge scored eight minutes from time to give England a victory over Denmark, but it is the man who set him up, Adam Lallana, who could prove to be the biggest winner from an otherwise drab friendly encounter at Wembley.
In the final match before Roy Hodgson names his provisional 30-man squad for this summer’s World Cup, few players truly made bold claims to be on the plane. The most notable exception among the general malaise was Lallana. After coming on in the second half, the Southampton captain showed his intelligence and comfort in the international arena, despite playing in a deeper role. His fine turn and cross for Sturridge led to a win that was far from essential in a match that was perhaps more about the individuals trying to make their mark, rather than the performance of the team, but will none the less be a welcome one.
Sturridge had otherwise struggled to make an impact as Hodgson’s decision to go with a 4-3-3 formation meant him moving to the left and Wayne Rooney operating through the middle. There were five Liverpool players in the starting lineup, but England failed to play with the necessary tempo and intensity to get the best out of Sturridge, or his club-mates Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson going forward. Still, Sterling showed some lively touches and Sturridge will ultimately be happy to get his third goal for his country and further cement his place in the starting lineup. And it required some fine saves from Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel to keep the match goalless for as long as it was.
There were also openings at the other end. While Denmark, who will be on their holidays this summer, offered little, they still created enough chances to give Hodgson concern about his defensive options.
The game was incredibly flat in the opening half, although England weren’t without their chances. Rooney showed some acumen for the central striking role when he ran onto a ball over the defense and got there ahead of the out-rushing Schmeichel, but on the turn and from a tough angle he could only strike across the box.
The relationship with Sturridge wasn’t quite providing the necessary dividends, though. Sturridge’s best work in the opening 45 minutes came when beating Peter Ankersen down the right of the box before firing wide across goal. An even better opening soon came his way. The in-form forward looked destined to score when a corner broke into his path six yards from goal, but Schmeichel brought back memories of his father, legendary Manchester United stopper Peter Schmeichel, by spreading himself superbly to make a pointblank save.
In between, the post came to Denmark’s rescue after some fine defending from Ankersen deflected a cross from the impressive Ashley Cole onto the woodwork and prevented Sterling from converting.
At the other end, Sterling’s lack of tracking back almost caught England out when Glen Johnson got outnumbered and it required Gary Cahill to clear off the line from Simon Poulsen’s effort.
With Phil Jagielka out, Chris Smalling failed to enhance his prospects early in the second half. His poor attempted clearance allowed Stefan Rasmussen to be played in and it required Joe Hart to come out smartly to prevent a goal for the visitors.
England began to show more impetus going forward when Lallana came off the bench to join his teammate Luke Shaw, who had come on for what was a promising debut at the interval. Another substitute, Danny Welbeck was denied by Schmeichel after a good interchange involving Sterling and Henderson.
It was Lallana, though, who was beginning to make things happen. His teasing cross just failed to be met by an England forward and from the resulting corner he teed up Sturridge for a fierce effort that was tipped over the crossbar. And that duo combined once more to finally break the deadlock. Lallana’s turn opened up space for a cross that was chipped perfectly to the back post and onto the head of Sturridge to place in textbook style back across goal.