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10 Feb 2011

In the rush to condemn England's friendly in Denmark as a meaningless and unwanted interruption to an already over-crowded calendar, someone forget to tell Fabio Capello's players.

England have made a full contribution to devaluing this particular currency in the past with gratuitous gifts of caps and those nights of endless substitutions - but the encounter in Copenhagen carried genuine significance for many of Capello's undercard.

England's Italian coach will have relished the victory as preparation for a Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales in Cardiff next month that he simply cannot lose. It was also a game that effectively started one international career and revived others.

On that basis alone, those who cared to label this as a game without meaning must think again - and would certainly get an argument from Capello.

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere was Capello's vision of the future, even though the England coach's vision will not extend beyond Euro 2012. Not given to over-statement, he was happy to mention the teenager in the same breath as legends such as "Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Raul, these players started really young too. It's the talent."

The talent was on show in a 45-minute cameo that, while confirming Wilshere is not the defensive midfield man Capello apparently envisages and never will be, illustrated rare gifts and an immediate comfort on the England stage.

Wilshere's first start for England actually saw him over-shadowed by another teenager carrying a nation's weight of expectation, Denmark's Christian Eriksen, who will have Premier League managers forming an orderly queue outside the door at Ajax after a stunning display.

But the Arsenal midfielder can take much from his own performance, showing confidence and a full range of passing, despite playing a role unsuited to his progressive box-to-box approach.

England's exposure to Denmark's attacks and the vulnerability demonstrated when Daniel Agger found space and time to head Eriksen's wonderful cross past Joe Hart early on demonstrated a weakness that will have irked Capello.

But Aston Villa's striking duo of Darren Bent and Ashley Young not only got the goals that brought victory and will have lightened Capello's mood, they also enhanced their own England stature.

Bent's international class is still questioned in some quarters and the sceptics may point to two missed chances in the second half as evidence to support their case, but he is a striker who gets chances at any level and his conversion ratio is improving. Bent's critics can sniff as much as they like but he scores goals.

It is a talent Capello clearly appreciates. "Darren is a very clever player who gets in good positions to score," said the Italian. "He is one of our important players now."

With Liverpool new boy Andy Carroll receiving glowing references from Capello as Wayne Rooney's potential long-term partner, it did Bent no harm to underline his growing maturity with England and deliver another reminder of that natural knack to seek out chances.

Young's display hinted that he is finally ready to reignite his England career with an outstanding second half that brought the reward of the winning goal, scored with a measure of composure after fine work by Glen Johnson.

Capello gave Young a roving attacking commission and it was one he utilised well, especially in tandem with Bent. England's coach was suitably impressed. "This position is really good for Ashley Young because he's free," said the former AC Milan, Juventus, Roma and Real Madrid coach. "He causes problems when he plays in the middle of the pitch."

Young has flourished only fleetingly with England but this was a performance that offered real encouragement that he could make the leap from club to country.

Capello can take other positives too. Theo Walcott created England's equaliser for Bent at the conclusion of a long passage of possession and looked lively throughout while James Milner was also tireless.

And for Scott Parker, the man who must have wondered what he had to do to capture Capello's attention, this was the night when he may just have achieved his goal.

Parker's introduction, along with Gareth Barry, at the interval enabled England to plug the gaps so gratefully exploited by Eriksen in the first half. West Ham United's midfield man tackled with trademark tenacity and moved the ball with a pace Capello will demand from him.

Whether this is enough to convince Capello he is worthy of a place in a full-strength squad or in his team remains open to debate, but what is beyond dispute is that Parker could not have done any more to state his case.

For Capello, it creates competition within his squad and keeps complacency at bay. For this alone, the Copenhagen friendly was invaluable.

Quite what former captain John Terry made of his evening in Copenhagen is another matter. Unconvincing in defence, he was then forced to watch as the armband he once cherished so proudly was passed around at speed without the slightest indication it would ever come anywhere near him again.

When Frank Lampard went off Ashley Cole took over - and when the Chelsea left-back departed Barry was England's third captain of the evening. If ever Terry harboured any faint hope of regaining the captaincy, this was an experience to ensure he can now dismiss the notion.

Even when Capello, the man who stripped Terry of the honour, quits in 2012, there is the real possibility that the Chelsea skipper will no longer warrant a place in the team at that stage in his lengthy career.

Capello will not be giving such sides issues a thought at the end of an encounter that brought a succession of positives - and a real meaning as he shapes England's Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

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