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Henderson stakes World Cup claim as Sturridge goal secures England win
Full-time: England 1 Denmark 0
ON Sunday, Jordan Henderson was in the Wembley stands watching his beloved Sunderland lose the Capital One Cup final to Manchester City. Last night, the 23-year-old returned to the national stadium in an attempt to persuade Roy Hodgson that he deserves to be the first Wearsider ever to play for England in a World Cup finals.
Did he do enough? Time will tell. Although on a largely lacklustre night for the national side, it was hard to claim that anyone did too much to enhance their World Cup credentials, save for perhaps Daniel Sturridge, who headed home the 82nd-minute winner, and Adam Lallana, who capped an excellent substitute display by providing the cross for the goal.
A narrow win over a Danish side that failed to qualify for Brazil hardly provided the ideal send off before Hodgson names his provisional 30-man World Cup squad in the middle of May, but at least England avoided the ignominy of suffering a third successive home defeat after reverses to Chile and Germany.
Did Hodgson learn anything from the experience? Only that it will be difficult to get out of a group containing Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica this summer, but then even the most ardent of supporters knew that anyway.
An experimental England line-up created a handful of chances, but Kasper Schmeichel performed impressively in the Danish goal, denying Danny Welbeck and Sturridge before the latter headed home Lallana's cross. Not for the first time, the Southampton midfielder came off the bench to impressive effect in the international arena. He, more than anyone else, is closing in on a place in Brazil.
England were the better side throughout, but lacked cohesion for large periods. Hodgson must hope that once he settles on his preferred starting line-up, the rhythm and understanding will come.
Will Henderson be part of that starting XI? He was one of five Liverpool players in last night's side - the first time since 1977 that so many of the Anfield club's players had featured in the same England team – and Hodgson has clearly been impressed with Brendan Rodgers' deployment of his midfield and attacking resources this season.
England's front six last night was effectively Liverpool's midfield and attacking unit with Philippe Countinho and Luis Suarez replaced by Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere, but the level of threat and penetration was rather different. Do not expect England to be Liverpool mark II this summer.
That is not to say that Henderson should not have a role, but the North-Easterner was unable to provide a compelling case for his inclusion last night. He was committed, energetic and reliable in possession, but is that enough to merit a World Cup spot? Perhaps it will come down to a straight fight with James Milner for the 'yeoman' role in the party.
Like Henderson, Raheem Sterling is also making a late push for inclusion on the plane to Brazil. Like Henderson, the teenager did okay without really catching the eye.
There were bursts of action against a well-drilled Danish defence, but no one moment that would have had Hodgson jumping out of his seat, save for a sprint into the box shortly before half-time that might have resulted in a goal had a covering tackle from Peter Ankersen not turned Ashley Cole's cross against the post.
Still a maybe then, and while Sterling has perhaps nudged ahead of Andros Townsend and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the pecking order, it was Lallana who made the greater strides despite only appearing for 32 minutes.
The other main talking point in the build up to last night's game was the debate over who should accompany Leighton Baines in the World Cup squad as England's second-choice left-back.
The likelihood is that Hodgson will eventually plump for Cole ahead of Luke Shaw, and the former just about shaded the latter as they were given a half apiece against the Danes. Cole's crossing ability remains a useful asset, and defensively he looks more reliable than his teenage rival.
Of the definite starters, Gary Cahill was solid at the back, Steven Gerrard patrolled effectively at the base of midfield and Wayne Rooney was his usual mixture of inspiration and infuriation.
Pinpoint 50-yard passes were mixed with wasteful chipped free-kicks over the crossbar, but for most of the game, there was a sense that if Hodgson's side were to make a breakthrough, Rooney would most likely be involved.
Whether he suits a free role remains a moot point, as his desire to charge here, there and everywhere often leaves England with a lopsided look. It can make him difficult to pick up though, as evidenced by the 33rd-minute surge into the box that almost saw him connect with a dangerous driven cross from Sturridge.
That was England's first real opportunity of an underwhelming first half, and it was followed by Denmark's best chance. Michael Krohn-Dehli played in Nicklas Bendtner, but a backtracking Cahill was on hand to clear the Arsenal striker's scuffed shot before it had chance to trouble the goalmouth.
Ankersen's deflection against the post almost handed England the lead, and the hosts came close again in first-half stoppage time. Cahill flicked Rooney's corner into Sturridge's path, but Schmeichel, once a loanee at Darlington, was quick off his line to block the ball with his legs.
Joe Hart's first involvement came 12 minutes after the interval, with the England goalkeeper claiming Bendtner's low shot after the Arsenal striker threatened to profit from a Cahill slip.
Hart made a much more difficult stop eight minutes later, sprinting from his line to deny Morten Rasmussen after the ball ricocheted into the Danish substitute's path in the box.
Schmeichel made a similar stop to deny Danny Welbeck at the opposite end, and then produced the save of the game to deny the same English replacement after he had been slipped through the middle.
However, the Danish goalkeeper was eventually beaten with eight minutes left. Lallana stood up an inviting cross from the left-hand side, and Sturridge rose to direct a powerful header into the corner of the net.
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