Well, that was a slog, but relatively entertaining in the last 25 minutes - funnily enough, once Wayne Rooney went off and Adam Lallana and Danny Welbeck came on. It sure is a conundrum. It’s probably not worth having the debate, because we all know that it won’t happen, but should it? Could it? Tonight offered compelling evidence that the team can survive without him.
Despite the victory, there are plenty of questions for Hodgson to mull over. The formation in the first half did not work and made for a laboured performance, England only perking up after an hour. The defence was largely untested but was unconvincing when it was called upon, though Joe Hart will be pleased with the save he made when it was 0-0 in the second half. Jack Wilshere’s evening wasn’t helped by the early injury he suffered and I’m surprised he stayed on that long, while Jordan Henderson, without disgracing himself, could have done more.
But, hey, England won. 99 days to go. Thanks for reading. Bye.
Full-time: England 1-0 Denmark
90 min+2: Olsen’s inswinging free-kick from the left causes angst in the England area. Agger throws himself at it, making no contact, and Hart watches the ball bounce just past the far post. Oof, ah, ooh.
89 min: Based solely on tonight, I’m not sure anyone would have Rooney in their starting XI. But imagine the nuclear tantrum that would cause.
88 min: James Milner replaces Daniel Sturridge. As for earlier question about where Sturridge had been all night, Richard Wood has an answer: “On the left wing, pushed out to accommodate a ponderous player who also wasn’t playing in the same position as he does for his club. Glad Roy’s corrected it now, but playing an in-form striker with a truly fearsome goals-to-game ratio, who has four of his teammates on the pitch, out of position, was a bone-headed move.”
87 min: “Re your comments on 79min - I don’t think Wayne Rooney quite weighs 100 kilos,” says Michael Brown.
86 min: Raheem Sterling is off for Andros Townsend. I also neglected to mention that Oxlade-Chamberlain earlier replaced Jordan Henderson - but you’ll have to forgive me for not noticing that the latter was no longer on the pitch.
85 min: For me, Adam Lallana is an England starter.
GOAL! England 1-0 Denmark (Sturridge, 82 min)
Daniel Sturridge is treating Wembley to that silly dance and well he might, because he has just diverted an almighty amount of pressure that was about to be placed on England’s shoulders! But while he scored the goal, it owed so much to the brilliance of the brilliant Adam Lallana. He had the ball on the left and looked like he was going to cross with his right foot. But he’s better than that. He dropped a shoulder, completely duped his marker and dipped back on to his left foot, before chipping a cracking cross to the far post, where Sturridge rose highest and sent an unstoppable header back in the opposite direction and into the far corner. That’s a really good goal and it has been coming.
81 min: Denmark replace Jacob Poulsen with Danny Olsen.
80 min: “There must be logistically simpler ways to practice taking corners than organising an international friendly,” says Matt Dony.
Ask Marlo Stanfield.
79 min: Sterling pulls a pass back to Sturridge from the left but he doesn’t strike his shot from the edge of the area cleanly and it’s easily blocked. England look like they have had a 100 kilo weight removed from their shoulders in the last 20 minutes. Much better – a bit of vision, imagination, purpose and speed has been spotted in their attack.
78 min: Lallana is a footballer. He knows what’s up. He has to start. He’s not fazed by all this. “How about Januzaj?” says David Flynn. “Both a maverick and a (soon to be) star of a foreign side who would be smothered by England while trying to cover Glen Johnson when he darts up field to over hit another aimless cross.”
76 min: England take a short corner and when the ball is touched to Sturridge on the right of the area, his first-time left-footed blooter, hit with fearsome power, is punched over by Schmeichel! What an effort! What a save! That’s what Sturridge can do. Where’s that been all night?
75 min: But, as I say, England have finally located a spark. They’re brisker, less stodgy, more at ease with themselves. Sterling pushes a nice pass through to the bright Lallana on the left and his bouncing, awkward cross is shanked behind by Juelsgaard at the far post.
74 min: Chris Smalling is an oaf. Under no pressure, he boots the ball forward to no one in particular. This is why England lose.
72 min: Get this - England have had a quicker step to their attack since Welbeck came on and Rooney went off. Food for thought. A Henderson flick sends Welbeck through but he’s always on the stretch and can’t quite get enough purchase to poke it past Schmeichel, who has been very good indeed. Wonder where he gets it from.
70 min: “Slightly unrelated to tonight’s performance, but it would be (more) interesting to gauge oinion on which maverick or unlikely stars of foreign sides would have been nowhere near or crushed by playing for England,” says Elliot Carr-Barnsley. “Pippo Inzaghi springs to mind as an example. I’d even wager Zidane would have been detrimentally forced to track the full back.”
Messi probably isn’t big enough, is he.
68 min: Henderson slices horribly wide from 25 yards. It’s not been his night. Right, I’ll get the petition going ... But wait! A few seconds later, Welbeck is burlying his way into the area, holding off Bjelland and spanking a low shot goalwards - but Schemichel dives to his left to push it away. The ball broke loose, ready to be tapped home, but an unhappy Sturridge was on his heels. “I know that Denmark are just mucking about, but I do get the sneaky and depressing feeling that England are actually trying,” says Shane O’Leary.
65 min: Joe Hart saves England from embarrassment. With the game growing increasingly scrappy, a pathetically indecisive and soft piece of defending from Smalling leads to the ball breaking to the edge of the England area. More through luck than judgement, the ball then clatters off the shins of a nearby Denmark player and is diverted through to Rasmussen, who’s in the clear. He tries to prod a finish under Hart but he spreads himself well and does just about enough. England survive. But that was a hairy moment.
64 min: Rasmussen is Duncan Ferguson! His first contribution is to foul Gary Cahill and pick up a booking.
62 min: Denmark replace Casper Sloth with Niki Zimling, Simon Kjaer with Andreas Bjelland - arf - and Nicklas Bendtner with Morten Rasmussen. Apparently Rasmussen looks like Duncan Ferguson, in the same way that England look like Spain.
61 min: There’s no point pretending. Rooney was rubbish. Why the fuss?
60 min: Before Gerrard can hit the first man with his corner, Rooney is replaced by Danny Welbeck. Gerrard then hits the first man with his corner.
59 min: Before Rooney can wallop the free-kick into the wall, Adam Lallana replaces Jack Wilshere. Rooney then wallops the free-kick into the wall. Gerrard’s follow-up is deflected wide for a corner on the left.
58 min: Retro-Rooney, who’s done very little, suddenly rolls back the years, all the way back to Euro 2004. When Wilshere is tackled on the right, the ball breaks to him and he bustles through a couple of challenges before being brought down on the edge of the area by a flailing Agger, who grins at the injustice of it all.
57 min: Beware the wrath of Bendtner. Poulsen pings a crossfield pass from right to left towards him. Cahill watches it all the way but can’t climb high enough to cut it out and the ball falls to Bendtner on the left of the area. He does his best to miscontrol it but then sees Cahill stumble, allowing him to drill a shot straight at Hart.
56 min: Sterling plays one of those lovely balls with the outside of his right foot down the line to Shaw, much like his assist for Sturridge against Swansea, and the left-back whips a fine cross into the six-yard box. Sturridge is lurking but it doesn’t quite reach him. But that’s better.
55 min: “England plays ugly, what matters is winning,” says Peter Doyle. “If they want entertainment rent a movie.” All well and good, but they’re not winning, they’re just playing ugly.
54 min: This game desperately needs Nicklas Bendtner to take control of it.
51 min: Shaw is called upon to defend for the first time. He looks shaky for a brief second, Kusk almost dribbling past him, but he recovers well to rob the Danish raider. “For my money, the main problem with playing Rooney up top and Sturridge out wide is that it leaves England without anybody playing as a typical striker,” says Ben Paul. “For that to happen, you need your midfielders running past the attacking players and getting into the box, but too often in the first half a midfielder in possession has looked up and found no movement in front of him. It’s so easy to defend against. Also, I totally agree that the band playing the same old dirges on repeat must have a negative effect on the team.”
England have been crushingly predictable. There’s been no movement at all. They are making me sleepy.
50 min: Johnson’s deflected cross from the right falls to Henderson on the edge of the area but his shot is blocked. That might be the first time I’ve mentioned him. Henderson has been peripheral, which isn’t doing his chances of going to the World Cup any good whatsoever.
48 min: It’s still very laboured. “The Danish team was way more defensive than expected by the group of people im watching it with,” says Morten Poulsen. “4 blokes in the wonderful age of mid30something. Well our view is that England is not getting a fair test. The Danish team is performing sub par. In the half the Danish right wing Larsen shoud be subbed and the play is non existing. But enjoy the World Cup since we are staying at home for a barbecue. (is it mean to hope for a civil war to get us to a new Championship). Italy we are looking at you.”
A couple of changes for Denmark, Kasper Kusk and Jesper Juelsgaard on for Emil Larsen and Lars Jacobsen and – ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding – England bring on the debutant Luke Shaw in place of Ashley Cole. Good luck, Shawsy. And then we’re off again – and it’s Denmark who are instantly making a nuisance of themselves, Juelsgaard zipping down the left and delivering a menacing low ball towards Kusk in the area. Cahill denies him in last-ditch style. England get the resulting corner clear.
“When did we last actually score a goal from open play?” says Max Williams. October. “I seem to remember we lost our last two matches to nil. Obviously I could look this up for myself but God knows you could use the diversion going by the display so far.”
“Never mind this 30 man squad,” says George Marshall-Thornhill. “Roy would do well to cherry pick from the mighty Plymouth Argyle’s squad. They won 5-0 on Saturday and 4-0 before that. Although I admit I don’t know how many of the team are eligible to play for England.”
“Gerrard playing this deeper role is benefitting England too, I think he’s been England’s best player tonight,” says Christopher Gardiner. “Good mixture of simple and excellent long balls. Is this point to boring to go in the MBM? I’m hoping that the boredom barometer is similarly high to England friendlies.”
“Being Irish this probably counts as a stone being lobbed from the direction of my glass house but I feel the question needs to be asked,” says David Flynn. “What exactly are England trying to do? Like what is the game plan here? When you look at the top teams in the world, the Spains, Germanys, Brazils, Argentinas etc, you know they’ll come at you with a definite Plan A, be it mesmerising passing, counter attacking, extreme flair or Messi respectively. But when you watch England there’s that nagging doubt that Hodgson has given them any identity or attacking game plan outside of maybe “Try the wings, pass to Rooney, Sturridge might score, hope I don’t have to vigorously shake my face come 80minutes”.”
“So, the chap (Sturridge) who has scored about three million goals this season is shoved out wide so that the chap (Rooney) who has been distinctly average can play through the middle,” says Sally Officer. “Well done Roy.”
“They’re not showing the England game here in Chile so its Germany v Chile,” says Henry Buckle-Loveless. “Conclusions so far: Thank God neither team is in England’s group.”
Half-time: England 0-0 Denmark
Peep! Peep! England have huffed and puffed to little effect. They could be ahead, they could be behind, so 0-0 is about right. What matters is the performance and it has been a sluggish, muddled, cluttered grind so far.
There have been a lot of corners.
45 min+1: There will be one minute of stoppage time. And England have a corner on the left. Rooney curls it in and Cahill heads down into the six-yard box. Denmark go to sleep but Sturridge is alive, only for Schmeichel to starjump in front of him and block with his legs!
43 min: Like this! How are England not in front? Denmark were pulled all over the place by some neat movement from Sturridge and Rooney, who spotted Cole loitering in space to his left. He scampered on to the pass and knocked a low cross into the six-yard box where Sterling was arriving at pace. A goal looks certain given that Sterling is all of three yards out, but somehow he crashes the ball against the right post! What a miss!
42 min: It looks like every England player is wearing a straitjacket. Some freedom, please!
39 min: Denmark haven’t had too much interest in attacking but they should be in front. Krohn-Delhi drifts forward, no one bothering to impede him and soon his eyes light up as more and more space starts to appear. England are all over the show, their defence running off in all number of directions in a blind panic, allowing Krohn-Delhi to slide a simple pass through to Jacob Poulsen. With Cahill and Smalling nowhere to be seen, Poulsen is through on goal but for some reason he takes an extra touch, the ball gets stuck under his feet and although his scuffed shot rolls past Hart, it’s never got enough pace on it to dribble over the line and England hack it clear. That was far too easy.
38 min: Rooney tries to score from 25 yards out. He does not, curling a dreadful effort miles over.
37 min: If I may, England should think about reverting to 4-2-3-1 in the second half. Sturridge, Sterling and Rooney don’t seem to know where they’re meant to be.
36 min: You know when you watch a Premier League game between two mid-table sides who are both struggling for inspiration? That’s what this game is like.
33 min: Sturridge, who has struggled to involve himself, injects some devilment into England’s attack, twisting, turning and scheming on the right of the area and then flashing a cross-shot across the face of goal. Rooney almost makes contact inside the six-yard box but his legs are only so long.
31 min: Joe Hart almost another moment. A hoof towards Nicklas Bendtner catches out Gary Cahill on the turn, the defender misjudging the flight and the bounce. Bendtner, the deadliest of marksmen, is interested. So is Hart. The ball spins round Cahill and momentarily it looks like it’s going to run through to Bendtner, only for Hart, inches inside his area, to stretch out a hand and collect.
30 min: WE WANT TOM CLEVERLEY.
29 min: Both sides have been mediocre. Denmark are well organised and England are playing without wit, invention or speed. So, as you’d expect, if we’re being brutally honest. “It’s early days yet, but England look as controlled as an auto-asphyxiate with a plastic bag over his head so to say, ‘I know where my air isn’t coming from.’,” says Hubert O’Hearn. “They lack that divine sense of madness that transports talent into medals. But then, they reflect their gaffer: Play to eliminate mistakes, not to inspire success.”
27 min: The crowd are singing that they are “England til I die”, refusing to follow the example set by Diego Costa. Could be the wrong message to send to Adnan Januzaj though. “You may well scoff at the short sighted, knee jerk reactions of the English public when it comes to giving players their chance to prove themselves at the international level, but we’d all have been spared a whole lot of pain if Emile Heskey had been banished after the first time he shinned a ball into touch at Wembley,” says Paul Flower. “He has 62 caps for gods sake. And to think that Matt le Tissier has 8.”
SOMETHING INTERESTING HAPPENS!
26 min: One of the linesmen has received a new flag. Meanwhile Wilshere is moving freely now after that whack from Agger.
23 min: The problem with Johnson, though, is that he always looks suspect at the back for England, despite his attacking qualities. Ankersen and Krohn-Delhi, who scored Denmark’s winner against Holland at Euro 2012, expose him on the left, the latter poking a pass through to the former. He skittles into the area, tricks his way inside and tries to find Bendtner with his cutback. He would have had an open goal, with Hart having gone walkabout, but the ball is booted clear. “I joined your MBM after the match started. I kept seeing references to “Sloth.” My initial reaction was that was a typical MBM-style derogatory comment about one of the England players,” says Angelo Puglisi. “ I spent 10 minutes trying to figure out which one before realizing that was the name of one of the Denmark players. Oh well.”
22 min: England are improving, their play growing in intensity with each passing minute. Johnson, who’s often to be found in advanced positions, produces a magnificent first touch to speed past Ankersen on the right but his cross is deflected behind for another corner. Gerrard’s corner eventually falls to Cahill, who chests and then volleys over from 15 yards.
20 min: A simple ball over the top from Smalling catches the dawdling Denmark defence out. From deep, he drifted a pass down the inside-left channel to Rooney, who was allowed to move into space far too easily. He was in the clear and reached the ball before Schemichel, poking it to the left and around the goalkeeper, who did well not to foul him. But forced wide and under pressure from the goalkeeper, he can’t knock the ball into the unguarded net.
19 min: From around 20 yards out, Rooney wafts the free-kick well over the bar.
18 min: And now Sloth lives up to expectations by giving away the ball in an extremely dangerous position to Gerrard, around 25 yards from goal. Gerrard bursts forward into the wide open space that is suddenly open to him, with Denmark’s defenders split, having failed to anticipate the danger. Sloth responds by fouling Gerrard, for which he is booked.
16 min: Denmark threaten again. England stand and gawp there like statues as Sloth confounds expectations by ferreting clear down the right flank. England appeal for an offside flag but it’s not coming. Sloth crosses high to the far post and Krohn-Delhi wallops over with a difficult volley.
15 min: Wilshere is back on again. Panic over! Arsene Wenger will be delighted.
14 min: But wait! Wilshere, a little tenderly, is up again, hobbling off the pitch for more treatment! A nation holds its breath.
13 min: Adam Lallana is getting ready to come on. Wilshere is in considerable distress. That’s the last thing he, Arsenal or England need.
12 min: Those of you who read my preamble will remember a funny joke about Jack Wilshere fracturing his metatarsal. Ha! Ha ha ha! What larks we have! Anyway I didn’t think it would happen tonight. Wilshere is down injured after being caught on the top of his foot by Agger. Agger’s heavy touch tempted Wilshere into the tackle and while it wasn’t a terrible tackle by the Denmark defender, he caught Wilshere on the foot with a stray stud.
11 min: England attack down the right again. The pitch must be lopsided because they haven’t looked to the left once yet. Sterling slides a pass forward to the onrushing Johnson, who is halted by Ankersen at the expense of a corner which leads to nothing.
9 min: There’s been a great deal of faffing around in midfield but not much to get excited about in either box. Both sides are just feeling each other out at the moment, eyeing each other up and down suspiciously and wondering whether it’s werf it. Denmark mount their first serious attack, cantering up the right flank, Jacobsen winning a corner off Sturridge, who is actually playing off the left. The corner is a risible disgrace.
7 min: The band have stopped and Wembley is silent. Though the crowd livens up as Wilshere instigates a promising move with a scoop to Johnson in space on the right. He’s held up but Sterling is soon given a chance to run at the Denmark defence again. He drives down the outside and hangs a cross up to the far post, but no one is there.
6 min: “Let’s be honest here, Steinberg, having high hopes about the England team is never a good idea,” says Simon Naylor-Copestake, whose name rings a few bells. “It’s certainly unbefitting of a Guardian MBM, and I’d like to thank you for keeping that in mind. That aside, if Roy went with the WhoScored England XI, albeit with perhaps a different CB pairing, would one be forced to concede a hint of optimism? I shudder at the thought…fortunately, I there’s always hope that Roy will put our fears to rest by bringing back the Gerrard-Lampard-Milner axis of mediocrity. It’s a shame that Emile Heskey is no longer an option in this regard.”
4 min: Is it hard to play football with the dullards that make up the England band playing their incessant dirge?
2 min: Gerrard thinks about a 40-yard pass to the left but then remembers yesterday’s session with Steve Peters and wallops a 40-yard pass to Sterling on the right. He miscontrols. Throw-in to Denmark and that should be the end of Sterling’s World Cup hopes! Alas, he is allowed to stay on the pitch, for England’s manager is a merciful Roy, and Sterling is soon showing for the ball again. Johnson slips a pass into the area and Sterling beats his man with a cute dragback before scuffing straight at Schmeichel from the byline. Right! That’s it! Confiscate his passport now!
And we’re off! Denmark, in red shirts and white shorts and with a ponytailed Nicklas Bendtner in attack, get the game going, mooching from right to left in this, the first half. England are in you know what England are in.
The teams are out. Time for some anthems. There are plenty of empty seats around Wembley and not just in the posh seats. Poor old The Football Assocation! You’ve gotta feel for them! “Ah, good ole’ England, “Daniel, you’ve been playing excellently up front recently, equalling records and scoring at about a goal a game. How’s about you play on the wing?”,” says Elliot Carr-Barnsley. “When did Lumberg from Office Space start managing England?”
Won’t Sturridge be playing as inside forward, a role he’s performed impeccably for Liverpool at times this season?
A theory: if Tom Cleverley played for Aston Villa, people would want him in the England squad. It’s all about perception. He’s supposed to be Paul Scholes and how dare he not be.
Owen Hargreaves was the designated boo-boy in the build-up to the 2006 World Cup. He was England’s best player in Germany.
Tom Cleverley’s name was booed when it was read out. By England “fans”. People are amazing, aren’t they, and not in a good way. Those responsible need to have a look at themselves, preferably while standing in the middle of a busy motorway. Cleverley, poor for Manchester United this season, is probably not deserving of his place, but he’s a decent enough player. Oh well, it’s Cleverley’s turn to get a good kicking from the English public. He’s not the first and he won’t be the last. Well done, everyone, great work, you’re definitely not a total embarrassment to - and I write the following as it’s the only language these eedjits will understand – QUEEN AND COUNTRY.
It does feel like a waste not to give Luke Shaw a chance from the start, as these friendlies have a habit of fizzling out in the second half. As fine a defender as Ashley Cole is, he hasn’t played for five weeks and Shaw, the future, has been outstanding all season in a good side.
There are 99 days to go, in case you hadn’t heard, and soon Hodgson will name his final squad. There are 23 places available. But who goes? Who stays? Who trashes a hotel room when they get the bad news? It’s a difficult one, as Arsene Wenger would say. Hodgson needs a blend of youth and experience but is there any point taking both Gerrard and Lampard? That would mean someone like Ross Barkley or Jordan Henderson won’t go to a tournament England should be using to develop as a team for the future. Is it necessary to take two specialist right-backs when Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or even James Milner, at a push, could deputise? That would free up another space for an attacking player. Which attackers to take? I had a go at making my squad today, while making sure to live on the edge, and one of Carrick, Lampard and Milner will miss out if I have my way.
“I know this is an unpopular view but I feel Hodgson should purge everyone from the (snicker) Golden Generation, including Gerrard (and ACole, Barry, Carrick, etc),” says Peter McMurry. “It’s not that they’re not good enough; it’s that England have no chance of winning WC2014 and should therefore be building a core of young players who will be used to playing with each other in 2016/18. I know everybody loves Stevie G and on current form he’s worthy, but a WC place shouldn’t be a FA Lifetime Achievement Award.”
“I share your bemusement at the presence of 5 Liverpool players in the side,” says Marie Meyer. “It should be 6. Flanners for England!”
The teams are in. Ashley Cole, 76, starts at left-back instead of Luke Shaw, 12, and Chris Smalling partners Gary Cahill at the back. There are five Liverpool players in the England side. England have 18 players on the bench but can only use six, which is useful.
England: Hart; Johnson, Smalling, Cahill, Cole; Gerrard, Henderson, Wilshere; Sturridge, Rooney, Sterling. Subs: Shaw, Foster, Baines, Caulker, Carrick, Milner, Lampard, Barkley, Cleverley, Lallana, Ruddy, Forster, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Townsend, Lambert, Defoe, Welbeck, Rodriguez.
Denmark: Schmeichel; Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger, Ankersen; Kvist, Sloth, Poulsen; Larsen, Krohn-Dehli, Bendtner. Subs: Andersen, Lossl, Kahlenberg, Bjelland, Kusk, Olsen, Zimling, Rasmussen, Delaney, Jacob Ankersen, Juelsgaard.
Referee: Kevin Blom (Holland)
Evening. There are 99 days until the World Cup begins, which provides ample time for Jack Wilshere to break his metatarsal, the rest of the squad to be run into the ground during the Premier League run-in, a sex scandal to erupt at the Football Association, someone to get mixed up in a nightclub brawl, Wayne Rooney to get lost in the Amazon, discussion about whether WAGS should be allowed to join the squad, someone to lock the England band in a room and never let them out, a petition for a law to be passed making it illegal to be Tom Cleverley and for the stadiums in Brazil to be built.
But we’ll worry about the above at the relevant moment. For the time being, the only topic on everyone’s minds is this friendly between England and Denmark - honestly, it’s been all anyone can talk about for days. I haven’t even been able to strike up a conversation about True Detective without it turning to The Denmark Game within a matter of minutes.
There is never a match that England are allowed to lose without it being the cue for a national inquest into why we aren’t more like whatever flavour of the month our tongues are salivating over at the time, but this is one they could do without losing. Not only is it their final match before Roy Hodgson names his squad for the World Cup, they also come into this fixture having lost successive home matches for the first time since 1977. We’re going for three in a row! England haven’t lost three successive matches since the Euro 2008 so, looking to put a positive spin on things, Hodgson could be the new Bobby Robson. Hurrah!
November’s defeats against Chile and Germany didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know, however. Germany are a superior team to England. Chile are a more cohesive unit and understand how to cope with the refined nature of international football. England struggle to pass the ball and their technique looks limited against more refined opposition. “I love watching English football but I used to love playing against English teams,” John Cruyff said in 1998. “They always gave you the ball back if you lost it. Still do.” It was ever thus.
To listen to some of the criticism that followed those matches was enough to leave you with the impression that England hadn’t even qualified for the World Cup, though. But they have and Denmark haven’t, so are unlikely to be overly bothered tonight, therefore presenting England with the chance to boost morale with victory against competent opposition. Sometimes we go overboard, both when praising and criticising England. The middle ground can be hard to locate. Being drawn in a group with Italy and Uruguay is difficult but not insurmountable. Luckily England have hired a psychiatrist, Steve Peters, to help them deal with the pressure, not that they feel any pressure, no way. This will make them better footballers and guard against an exit on penalties. Foolproof. You can’t argue with science.
Despite the gnashing of teeth and the tearing out of hair, however, Hodgson is not a man whose knees are prone to jerking. So Jay Rodriguez, criticised for not winning the World Cup on his debut against Chile, is included in the squad again, his excellent form for Southampton enough to give him another opportunity to show what he can do. It’s amazing what can be achieved with a little patience.
Not that England have much time left. Hodgson named a 30-man squad for this friendly and will do so again when England jet off to their training camp, but he will eventually have to trim it to 23.
The likelihood is that Hodgson will have a strong idea of what his squad is already but there are still places to play for, which makes this a big night for Ashley Cole, Luke Shaw, Steven Caulker, Ross Barkley, Michael Carrick, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert, Jermain Defoe, Andros Townsend and Raheem Sterling. Other members of the squad probably know that their places are secure, injuries permitting, while it is doubtful that anyone who did not make this squad will go to Brazil this summer (unless they have holiday plans). But Hodgson, his knees resolutely still, says the door is still open for your Gareth Barries or Adam Johnsons.
Ninety-nine days, then. Make the most of them.