By Mike Collett
Adam Lallana almost certainly secured a place in the England squad for the World Cup but a generally sluggish performance in a narrow 1-0 friendly win over Denmark raised more questions than answers for coach Roy Hodgson.
Lallana’s arrival after 58 minutes – along with the halftime introduction of his teenage Southampton team mate Luke Shaw, who made his debut when he replaced Ashley Cole – helped liven up England after a pedestrian first half on Wednesday.
Lallana provided one exquisite piece of skill with a smart “Cruyff turn” and also sent over the perfect cross for Daniel Sturridge to head home the only goal after 82 minutes.
England deserved the victory as they dominated most of the game against mediocre opponents who failed to qualify for Brazil, but who still, on occasion, threatened England and could have made it a vastly more embarrassing night for the home side.
Despite his praise for the younger players in his side, this strangely unsatisfactory performance left the coach with more questions than answers with just over two months to go before he names his provisional 30-man squad for the finals.
Even more importantly, he has to decide who makes his final 23-man selection and this performance has left him with plenty to ponder.
“It means headaches for me but it’s good news. I’m happy with their desire to get on that plane,” Hodgson said after the game.
“Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, even Jack Wilshere… all of those came out of the game with credit.”
Hodgson will name an initial 30-man squad on May 13 before the final home friendly against Peru on May 30.
Three days later, he must submit his 23-man squad for the finals before the last two friendlies in Miami against Honduras on June 4 and Ecuador on June 7.
Hodgson though does not mind having questions to answer.
“If I was to say one thing I was most pleased with it would be the fact we put a lot of youngish players who haven’t played a lot for England on the pitch, and they did a good job and improved their chances,” he said.
“You couldn’t get me to say anything negative about any of the young players on today. At one stage we only hadGary Cahill, Joe Hart, Glen Johnson and Steven Gerrard who would consider themselves senior players.
“Over half of the players we have in this squad are under 23. We are looking in that direction, but I don’t feel under obligation to pick any of the younger players.
“They are doing well at the moment. Hopefully you will be impressed with their performances, and I’ll have to make a decision going forward.”
But other questions remain too. Is Wayne Rooney best deployed as the main target man? Is Sturridge really in his best position playing wide on the left? Is centre-back Chris Smalling really international class?
And who should be the first choice left-back? Cole, who won his 107th cap, Shaw, who has played just 45 minutes for England, or the reliable Leighton Baines, who remained on the bench on Wednesday?
Making just his third international appearance, Lallana was the man who made the difference and said afterwards: “I just gave it my best and that’s all you can do, as everyone else is.”
Sturridge, who scored his third international goal and has netted 23 times in 28 appearances for Liverpool and England this season, added: “It was a very good result. We know we’ve got good players and if we stay patient then we’re going to create chances.”
“Adam played amazing. He came on and created a couple of chances. I played against him at the weekend and he caused Liverpool some problems.”
The 24-year-old striker had a positive take on the 18-year-old Shaw, too.
“I can’t really call him a young player because I’m also young. Players that are coming into the squad along with myself and going out there and complementing the team and work as a team. The key word is team.”