England's Daniel Sturridge (L) scores a goal during their international friendly soccer match against Denmark at Wembley stadium in London March 5, 2014. Photo by Eddie Keogh, Reuters.
LONDON - An 82nd-minute header by Daniel Sturridge was the only top-quality moment in a laboured performance as a pedestrian England team squeezed a 1-0 win over Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday.
Sturridge, left unmarked at the far post, nodded substitute Adam Lallana's cross beyond the reach of Kasper Schmeichel who had a superb match in goal for Denmark.
Apart from a late burst of attacking play, England were generally uninspiring against mediocre opposition who have failed to qualify for the World Cup in Brazil in June.
On the plus side there were promising displays from young Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling and Southampton's debutant left back Luke Shaw who came on for Ashley Cole, winning his 107th cap, at halftime.
The match was billed as the final audition for the World Cup as it was England's last game before manager Roy Hodgson names his provisional squad in May.
"I was very impressed with the performance of the young players in the second half especially," Hodgson told reporters.
"The victory was a positive one and we deserved it after dominating the play. The fact is we put a lot of young players out and they all came off the field having done a good job and improved their chances."
Denmark coach Morten Olsen said his team would have triumphed if Tottenham Hotspur playmaker Christian Eriksen had been fit.
"If Eriksen had played tonight I think we would have won because we had the space to play but we did not have the power to use it," explained Olsen.
"He is the one player who could have changed it. He would have made the other players better."
As Olsen left the room he turned to the reporters and said: "I wish you good luck in the World Cup, you need it."
Hodgson began the match with five Liverpool players - Glen Johnson, Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson, Sturridge and Sterling - but they failed to reproduce the form that has taken their club to second place in the Premier League.
Sturridge started on the left with Manchester United's Wayne Rooney as the lone frontman. The Liverpool striker spent most of the first hour tracking back to defend and occasionally cutting in to his more favoured central position but to no avail.
Apart from chances for Rooney, Sterling and Sturridge at the end of the opening half, and one excellent effort from the goal-scorer before his late strike, England were content to meander around Wembley in slow-paced fashion for long spells.
Whenever the hosts threatened, Schmeichel proved unbeatable and gave the kind of exhibition his father Peter regularly produced for United and Denmark.
Sturridge's fine late header was too good for any keeper to stop though.
Denmark had one chance on the break in the first half when Jakob Poulsen's shot was cleared by Gary Cahill and they were also thwarted by goalkeeper Joe Hart who saved well from Morten Rasmussen in the second period.
England have been drawn in World Cup Group D with Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy and whatever positive spin Hodgson has put on this show, they will need to play much better to have any chance of making an impression in Brazil.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)