England 3 Denmark 0
England dismissed Denmark with clinical efficiency in Niigata this afternoon to raise the World Cup hopes of a nation and set up a possible last-eight clash with favourites Brazil.
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men gratefully accepted a series of unexpected presents from the sloppy Scandinavians, with Sunderland keeper Thomas Sorensen leading the charity hand-outs by gifting England a fifth-minute own goal, woefully fumbling Rio Ferdinand’s header into his own net.
Michael Owen and under-fire Liverpool team-mate Emile Heskey were also on the scoresheet before the break as England equalled their biggest ever win in World Cup finals combat.
It means the huge army of England fans can pack their bags for Shizuoka and a June 21 meeting with the winners of Monday’s clash between Brazil and Belgium.
Both matches have history, David Platt’s last-minute extra-time winner against Belgium 12 years ago a famous stopping point on the run to the semi-finals.
But, despite the imposing nature of the contest, surely it is Brazil who England will want to face.
The last of three World Cup meetings between the two teams came in 1970, a match which featured Gordon Banks’ wonder save from Pele and Bobby Moore’s ‘perfect’ tackle on Jairzinho, who gained revenge by grabbing the only goal of the game.
In what had been predicted as a tense contest of few chances, England were handed the perfect start by a double Danish blunder which Eriksson could not have scripted if he had been writing it himself.
With the sides still working each other out, Martin Laursen conceded a needless corner when he nodded a harmless long ball from Nicky Butt behind his own line from fully 20 yards out.
David Beckham produced a hanging corner to the far post which was met at pace by Ferdinand.
The Leeds defender’s header was across, rather than at goal but it was too much for Sorensen, who fumbled as he fell inside his own six-yard area, and saw the ball roll agonisingly over the line before he could scoop it away.
If that was not bad enough, key Danish defender Thomas Helveg crashed into a net post to the side of the goal and had to be carried off with a serious leg injury.
Denmark looked seriously worried and their play lacked conviction, even though they dominated possession for long periods.
Dennis Rommedahl looked the most likely danger but despite finding plenty of space on the right side, failed to find the crosses which would have put David Seaman in trouble.
Heskey should have done better after barging his way past Laursen but tamely struck his shot straight at Sorensen with an unmarked Owen screaming for a pass to his right.
It was to prove the briefest of respites for the Scandinavians who quickly found themselves two down to a clinical piece of Owen finishing.
Trevor Sinclair found Nicky Butt just inside the area with a neat square pass. The Manchester United man tried to flick a first-time pass into the danger zone and when Thomas Gravesen tried to make the tackle he deflected the ball straight into Owen’s path. The Liverpool front-man needed no second invitation, controlling the ball before rolling it into the corner with precision.
Danish frustration was growing and Stig Tofting was booked for dissent after smashing the ball into the ground after conceding a debatable free-kick.
Heskey was unable to get on the end of a whipped right-wing Beckham cross as England seemed content to play on the counter against a Danish team who had failed miserably to create any clear-cut chances.
Ebbe Sand changed that by cutting inside Sol Campbell and Ferdinand but cut his shot wide of the post with Seaman beaten.
Heskey was having his usual frustrating mix of inspired and insipid contributions, but it was the former which provided the third for England a minute before the break.
Again, Denmark’s defensive frailties were horribly exposed. Manchester City defender Niclas Jensen’s attempted headed clearance fell straight to Beckham, whose first-time square ball found Heskey, whose fizzing shot should have been saved by Sorensen but instead slid through his grasp.
It ensured the vast banks of English supporters enjoyed a momentous half-time, already able to celebrate a quarter-final berth for the first time since 1990.
Eriksson was able to replace Owen with Robbie Fowler at the interval and Paul Scholes with Kieron Dyer two minutes after it, Denmark’s efforts at clawing their way back into the contest coming to nothing when Jesper Gronkjaer fired over from Rommedahl’s cross.
Danny Mills sparked a furious shoving match by shoving his forearm into Kasper Bogelund’s neck to earn himself a yellow card, although replays proved Gronkjaer had instigated the bust-up by tripping the Leeds defender as he tried to win the ball.
Sorensen tipped a curling long-range effort from Beckham over the bar and at the other end, Gravesen’s powerful drive was deflected over by Jon Dahl Tomasson.
Seaman was forced to make one decent save to deny Jensen late on but Denmark knew they were out, and the England party continues.