LONDON, Sept 4, (AFP): Wayne Rooney marked his first game as captain with a goal as England overcame Norway 1-0 in a forgettable friendly game at a half-empty Wembley Stadium on Wednesday. The Manchester United striker smashed home a 68th-minute penalty won by the impressive Raheem Sterling to give England victory in their first game since they limped out of the World Cup at the group phase. It was his 41st goal for his country, taking him above Michael Owen in the all-time scorers’ list, and saw England end a run of five games without victory ahead of Monday’s opening Euro 2016 qualifier in Switzerland.
England manager Roy Hodgson also gave debuts to Aston Villa midfielder Fabian Delph and Arsenal defender Calum Chambers, whose new team-mate Danny Welbeck caught the eye as a second-half substitute. But on a night when only 40,181 fans turned out to watch England — a record low in the seven-year history of the new Wembley — there were few satisfactions for Hodgson, whose side registered only two shots on target.
“We probed very well in the first half and asked a lot of questions of them. We started the second half poorly for 15 minutes, and Joe Hart had to make a couple of saves,” Hodgson told ITV. “But luckily we got ourselves going again with Danny Welbeck and Fabian Delph, and got on top. We were good value for our victory.” The thin crowd made for an atmosphere more akin to a testimonial inside the cavernous national stadium and it took the promptings of Sterling to spark the home team into life.
Sterling’s raking 40-yard ball set up a chance for Liverpool team-mate Daniel Sturridge, who could only lob over the bar, and he also teed up Sturridge and Leighton Baines for shots that were blocked. In response, Tarik Elyounoussi warmed Joe Hart’s palms with a 25-yard drive. Hart almost fumbled a cross into his own net shortly before half-time, but he showed his class early in the second period with a brilliant flying save to repel a header from Blackburn Rovers forward Joshua King. The same player, a former Manchester United trainee, then forced Hart to block at his near post after Gary Cahill undercooked a back-pass wide on the England right. There was a blow for Norway when Cardiff City midfielder Mats Moeller Daehli had to be stretchered off after injuring his knee in an attempt to tackle Sterling.
Sterling continued to torment the Norwegian defence and after he lured Omar Elabdellaoui into a mistimed lunge, Rooney fired England ahead from the spot. Moments later Rooney gave way for Welbeck, now his former United team-mate following his deadline-day move to Arsenal. The 23-year-old was quickly involved, testing Norway goalkeeper Orjan Haskjold Nyland with a fierce drive and flashing a cross across goal.
Delph and Chambers also entered the fray, the latter in place of Everton’s John Stones, who looked sure-footed on his first international start. “We played how we wanted to play in the first half,” said Norway coach Per-Mathias Hogmo, whose side host Italy in their first Euro 2016 qualifier on Tuesday. “It will serve as a good warm-up before the match against Italy.”