Smith snubs Denmark clash
This column has often harped on about how England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has devalued international friendlies and this week Manchester United striker Alan Smith made a decision that seems to support the theory.
The England international (now possibly 'former' international) refused a late call-up to face Denmark in Copenhagen on Wednesday evening, preferring instead to play in a reserve game against Bolton Wanderers in a bid to secure a first team place with his club.
Smith's future with England now hangs in the balance and his fifteenth appearence for England against Colombia in May could well be his last. FA chief executive Brian Barwick has made it clear that he is unhappy with Smith's decision.
'My view is that Alan Smith was given an opportunity to play for England and chose to play elsewhere,' Barwick said.
'It's not probably the cleverest thing he's done,' he added.
Smith excused himself from England duty lamenting the need for playing time, but the snub succeeds reports that the former Leeds United player was furious that he had been usurped by Peter Crouch and Andy Johnson during England's tour of the USA this summer.
Still, one man's rubbish is another man's gold, and Smith's absence led to a dream senior call for Charlton striker Darren Bent, who marked his Premiership debut with two goals against Sunderland at the weekend.
The £2.5million summer signing from League Championship side Ipswich Town has been promoted from the England U21's and it is the zestful desire of England's fringe players to impress in friendlies that makes them marginally bearable under Eriksson's stewardship.
Bent replaces hamstrung Crystal Palace striker Johnson in the squad and has earmarked the pint-sized front man as an inspiration.
'He came from the Championship like me,' said Bent. 'He scored a lot of goals in the Premiership and got his debut for England. It got me thinking that if he can do it I can do it.'
With Jermain Defoe, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney ahead of him in the squad he may not get the chance to take to the pitch but just being in the squad should boost the 21-year-old's confidence. And Eriksson has a history of giving fringe/form players a chance.
The last time England faced Denmark, in Manchester November 2004, Scott Parker and James Beattie were handed their chance - admittedly they have since become peripheral figures, at best - in the 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford.
Bent's Charlton teammate Dennis Rommedahl, along with fellow speedster Jesper Gronkjaer, ripped England apart that night in a victory that marked a semblance of revenge for Denmark's 3-0 thumping at the Korea/Japan World Cup finals.
That duo should be on display again in the Parken Stadion when England will be trying to preserve their impressive record against the Danes of just two defeats in sixteen matches since the inaugural meeting in September 1948.
This match is little more than a pres-eason get together for the England squad but their will be some interesting match-ups on show with Eriksson looking to finalise his starting line-up for the World Cup qualifiers against Wales and Northern Ireland in early September.
Meanwhile, the Danes are in danger of missing out on next summer's finals in Germany as they fight to emerge from Group Two behind runaway leaders Ukraine, and will be keen to find some form.
Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson will be hoping to get the better of England defender Rio Ferdinand, who will probably be partnered by Chelsea skipper John Terry in the centre of defence.
Tomasson, now plying his trade at VfB Stuttgart in Germany, had a disappointing spell in England as a youngster at Newcastle, but the 28-year-old has proved himself a class act in Holland and Italy and will prove a threat if his team-mates can supply him in the right areas.
Ferdinand had little trouble with Tomasson as England raced to a 3-0 half-time lead in Niigata back in 2002 - indeed it was he who opened the scoring at the other end - and will hope for a similar shut-out this time.
With his future also having been secured by his decision to sign a new deal at Manchester United late last week after an uncertain few months, he can now concentrate on working his way back to the form at international level which made him one of the stars of the tournament in the Far East.
For England the striker to watch will be Jermain Defoe, who gets a rare start ahead of Michael Owen. While the latter has been grabbing all the headlines after being relegated down the pecking order at Real Madrid and linked with a move back to the Premiership, Defoe has started the season in sparkling form.
With Owen also out through suspension for the imminent World Cup qualifier against Wales, the 21-year-old Tottenham striker has not one but two opportunities. He knows he will probably never get better chances to change his Swedish coach's mind.
Hoping to stop a goal glut will be Denmark goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, who established himself as one of the most capable keepers in the Premiership during his time at Sunderland to emerge from the sizeable shadow of the great Peter Schmeichel as his country's number one.
Life since his move to Aston Villa has been a little more difficult as a series of howlers have dented his reputation, but at his best, he is a stubborn opponent.
In the centre of the pitch ex-Everton midfielder Thomas Gravesen and Liverpool dynamo Steven Gerrard go head to head as the former derby-day opponents get reacquainted.
But while Gerrard eventually opted to stay at Liverpool, Gravesen moved on to Real Madrid. Eyebrows were raised when the Spanish club turned to the Dane to add steel to their midfield after witnessing his tenacious performances for Everton, but he is making a good fist of life at the Bernabeu Stadium.
Strong in the tackle, if somewhat mistimed, and tireless in his attempts to link midfield with attack, he is the kind of terrier-like player every side needs in the middle of the park.
In Gerrard England have their own pit-bull of a player. It was he who dragged his club back into last season's Champions League Final, and he has continued in the same vein since they launched their defence last month.
Whoever wins this battle for control of the the midfield will probably the match.
Robinson (Tottenham), James (Man City), Green (Norwich), G Neville (Man Utd), G Johnson (Chelsea), A Cole (Arsenal), Ferdinand (Man Utd), Terry (Chelsea), Carragher (Liverpool), Upson (Birmingham), P Neville (Everton), Beckham (Real Madrid), Gerrard (Liverpool), Lampard (Chelsea), J Cole (Chelsea), Hargreaves (Bayern Munich), Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), Jenas (Newcastle), Carrick (Tottenham), Owen (Real Madrid), Rooney (Man Utd), Defoe (Tottenham), Bent (Charlton Athletic) Denmark:
Jesper Christiansen (FC Copenhagen), Thomas Sorensen (Aston Villa); Brian Priske (Genk), Daniel Agger (Brondby), Michael Gravgaard (FC Copenhagen), Niclas Jensen (Fulham), Per Kroldrup (Everton), Per Nielsen (Brondby), Thomas Helveg (Borussia Monchengladbach); Allan K Jepsen (AaB), Christian Poulsen (Schalke), Claus Jensen (Fulham), Rasmus Wurtz (AaB), Thomas Gravesen (Real Madrid), Thomas Kahlenberg (Auxerre); Dennis Rommedahl (Charlton Athletic), Jesper Gronkjaer (VfB Stuttgart), Jon Dahl Tomasson (VfB Stuttgart), Kenneth Perez (AZ Alkmaar), Martin Jorgensen (Fiorentina), Morten Skoubo (Brondby), Soren Larsen (Schalke)