Daniel Sturridge was England’s hero as his header gave England an important World Cup warm-up win over Denmark.
It was proving to be a tricky night for the Three Lions as they found the opposition in a stubborn mood. But the in-form Liverpool hotshot popped up late on to nod his team to victory.
It ended a run of two blanks and two defeats at home for England and would have left Roy Hodgson smiling after a number of impressive performances, not least from Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and substitute Adam Lallana.
England 1-0 Denmark
International Match Wednesday 5 March Wembley Stadium connected by EE
As well as Sturridge and Sterling, Hodgson’s team featured three other Liverpool players, the most Reds in a Three Lions starting line-up since October 1977, when they beat Luxembourg 2-0.
One of those, Glen Johnson, won his 50th cap, while Jordan Henderson made his first start since November 2010.
There was also a second half debut for Southampton’s 18-year-old left-back Luke Shaw, who replaced Ashley Cole at half-time.
While this game was all about building for the future – the World Cup in Brazil – there was a moment to reflect on the past as the teams prepared for kick-off.
Wembley Stadium stood to honour Sir Tom Finney and Bert Williams, legends of the English game who died in recent weeks, as the Danish fans also remembered Richard Moller Nielsen, the coach who led them to their heroic triumph at Euro ’92.
Denmark had the first real opening, but Michael Krohn-Dehli sent his shot over the bar.
And there was a worrying sight for Hodgson after just 12 minutes when Jack Wilshere challenged Daniel Agger for a loose ball on the half-way line.
The Dane arrived just before as the Arsenal midfielder caught the bottom of his boot. He looked in pain as he received treatment but was able to carry on.
Wayne Rooney was given a chance to add to his 38-goal haul when captain Steven Gerrard burst towards the Denmark box before drawing a foul from Casper Sloth. The Aarhus defender was shown a yellow card, but Rooney’s free-kick was high and wide of the mark.
Trademark trickery from Sturridge on the right side of the Danish box almost opened up the visitors with 33 minutes played. His stepovers got him away from his marker before flashing the ball across the face of goal. Rooney and Wilshere, both darting in, could not quite apply the finishing touch.
Denmark were themselves enjoying forays forward and Joe Hart had to twice be alert to prevent them from gaining a sight on goal. One chance in particular from Jakob Poulsen was half-blocked by the keeper inside the six-yard box before Gary Cahill cleared.
However, while Hart was sharp one end, his former Manchester City team-mate Kasper Schmeichel could do nothing but watch as Sterling almost gave England the lead.
Rooney and Sturridge linked up well on the left before playing in Ashley Cole, overlapping behind Simon Kjaer.
The Chelsea man delivered a well-placed low cross into the six yard box as Sterling arrived, tightly marked, to guide goalwards, but the ball hit the post and bounced away.
Schmeichel then demonstrated the traditional family ‘star-save’, spreading himself to repel Sturridge from four yards, and it kept things goalless at the break.
Rooney was given another free-kick opportunity from on the edge of the box when he was fouled by Liverpool’s Agger. This time his shot hit the wall, Gerrard followed up the rebound, driving through the crowd but it deflected wide for a corner.
Hart again came to England’s rescue when a ball forward from the Danes wrong-footed Chris Smalling and fell into the path of substitute Morten Rasmussen. The England man raced out of his six-yard box to pressure the Midtjylland forwardand block out his attempt.
And it was proving to be a good night for the goalkeepers when Leicester City’s Schmeichel at the other end denied a fierce effort from England replacement Danny Welbeck.
His parry was perfect, falling to his nearest defender who cleared from under the nose of Sturridge, who was sniffing for the rebound.
Moments later Schmeichel was at it again, keeping out another close-range toe-poke from Welbeck following an intricate England move outside the area.
Hodgson’s men were playing patient football, looking to draw out the resolute Danes, and when their next chance arrived it was again the goalkeeper who was the hero, beating away a dangerous and powerful shot from Sturridge with 15 minutes to go.
The Three Lions finally got the breakthrough, though, when Sturridge bagged the game’s only goal on 82 minutes. It came following fine footwork from Adam Lallana, who turned one way, then the other to opening up space before clipping in from the left towards the far-post.
Finding space between defenders, the Liverpool hitman could not be prevented from heading home his third for England, sending the ball back across goal and into the net.
The lead was no more than their second-half dominance deserved and was greeted a loud cheers from the 68,000 fans inside the ground.
However, Danny Olsen nearly spoilt England’s night arriving on to a knock-down on the edge of a crowded box, but he fired over first-time and Hodgson’s Lions sealed the win.
England (4-4-1-1): 1 Joe Hart (Man City); 2 Glen Johnson (Liverpool), 6 Chris Smalling (Man Utd), 5 Gary Cahill (Chelsea), 3 Ashley Cole (Chelsea); 7 Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), 8 Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), 4 Steven Gerrard (c) (Liverpool), 11 Raheem Sterling (Liverpool); 10 Wayne Rooney (Man Utd); 9 Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool).
Substitutes: 12 Luke Shaw (Southampton) for Cole, 46; 21 Adam Lallana (Southampton) for Wilshere, 59; 28 Danny Welbeck (Man Utd) for Rooney; 24 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal) for Henderson, 77; 25 Andros Townsend (Tottenham) for Sterling, 86; 17 James Milner (Man City) for Sturridge, 87.
Subs not used: 13 Ben Foster (WBA), 14 Leighton Baines (Everton), 15 Steven Caulker (Cardiff City), 16 Michael Carrick (Man Utd), 18 Frank Lampard (Chelsea), 19 Ross Barkley (Everton), 20 Tom Cleverley (Man Utd), 22 John Ruddy (Norwich), 23 Fraser Forster (Celtic), 26 Rickie Lambert (Southampton), 27 Jermain Defoe (Tottenham), 29 Jay Rodriguez (Southampton).
Goal: Sturridge 82.
Denmark (4-4-1-1): 1 Kasper Schmeichel; 6 Lars Jacobsen, 3 Simon Kjaer, 4 Daniel Agger (c), 2 Casper Sloth; 7 William Kvist, 5 Kasper Ankersen, 8 Jakob Poulsen, 10 Emil Larsen; 9 Michael Krohn-Delhi; 11 Nicklas Bendtner.
Substitutes: 21 Jesper Juelsgard for Jacobsen, 46; 14 Kasper Kusk for Larsen, 46; 13 Andreas Bjelland for Kjaer, 62; 17 Niki Zimling for Sloth, 62; 18 Morten Rasmussen for Bendtner, 63; 15 Danny Olsen for Polsen, 81.
Subs not used: 12 Thomas Kahlenberg, 16 Stephan Andersen, 19 Thomas Delaney, 20 Jakob Andersen, 22 Jonas Lossl, 23 Simon Makienok.
Bookings: Rasmussen, Sloth.
Referee: Kevin Blom (Netherlands)