ROY HODGSON last night claimed the performance of England's younger players had given him considerable food for thought as he ponders the make up of his squad for this summer's World Cup finals.
Yet after Daniel Sturridge's 82nd-minute header secured an unconvincing win in England's final game before Hodgson has to submit a provisional 30-man squad for the finals in Brazil, Denmark boss Morten Olsen delivered a more damning assessment of England's World Cup chances.
Leaving his post-match press conference, Olsen said: “Good luck in the World Cup. You'll need it.” Sour grapes? Possibly. Although given the extent of England's toils against a Denmark side who failed to qualify for the World Cup finals, it was hard to argue with his comment.
England were far from convincing for large periods of last night's game at Wembley, although some of the key performers in an improved second-half showing clearly impressed their boss.
Sturridge's winning goal was a fitting reward for a bright attacking display, while Adam Lallana, who supplied the cross, caught the eye after coming off the substitutes' bench in the 58th minute.
Luke Shaw, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling all performed creditably without doing too much out of the ordinary, but Hodgson was still pleased to see so many of his younger performers holding their own at international level.
“I was pleased with the energy that the young players brought to the game,” said the England boss. “They showed a determination to get behind a packed Danish defence, especially in the second half.
“At the end of the second half, there was really only Joe Hart, Gary Cahill, Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard who could be described as senior players. The other seven are still really finding their way.
“I wanted to use the game in that way, and I wanted to make certain that these young players got the chance to go out at Wembley and play. I'm sure they'll all go back to their clubs happy that they've taken that chance.”
How many actually make the World Cup squad remains to be seen, but it was telling that England's intensity and creativity increased markedly when some younger legs were introduced towards the end of the game.
Lallana in particular enhanced his chances of earning a midfield berth, and Hodgson has promised to make a number of visits to Southampton in the final two months of the season to watch both the midfielder and his team-mate Shaw.
He will also be a regular visitor to Anfield to keep an eye on Sterling and Henderson, as well as Sturridge, Johnson and Gerrard, and the group that travels to Brazil could well turn out to be one of the youngest squads ever to represent England at a World Cup finals.
“I can't deny the logic of that thought,” said Hodgson. “In this squad we chose 30 players, and over half were under 23 years of age. So it's probably obvious that we're looking at some of those players before making a decision.
“I don't feel under an obligation to pick anyone – young or old. So I'm not telling you anything about what's going to happen. But I also don't have to tell you that the young players are doing well at the moment.”
One of Hodgson's toughest decisions will come at left-back, with Shaw and Ashley Cole getting a half each yesterday evening.
Leighton Baines looks guaranteed to make the final 23, but two into three will not go and Hodgson will have to decide whether to go with youth or experience when he selects his final party.
“I thought they were both very good,” he said. “They are different players, and I was impressed with them both.
“Ashley got forward well, and his defending was good. Then Luke came on and carried on in the same way. It's going to be a very difficult choice at left-back, but there's a lot of football to be played before the end of the season, so let's see what happens.”