NIIGATA — England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson’s local priest had “promised” that England would defeat Denmark in their Round of 16 game 2-1, with Michael Owen scoring the winner. The priest managed to get the result and one of the scorers right, coming up short with the scoreline however, as England cruised to a 3-0 win over Denmark with three first-half goals by Rio Ferdinand, Owen and Emile Heskey at Niigata stadium on Saturday.

“I thought we played well in the first half, scoring three goals and creating a number of good chances, although I don’t think that the scoreline was fair on Denmark,” said Eriksson. “The first goal was a big advantage for us as it meant that the other team would have to score at least twice to beat us, so it was very important.”

Danish striker Jon Dahl Tomasson passed a late fitness test to be named in the starting lineup as did midfield hardman Stig Tofting. Tomasson had, at the start of play, scored four goals for Denmark in the competition, double the total of the entire England team.

Eriksson named an unchanged team to the one that drew 0-0 with Nigeria in its last Group F game, choosing to ignore calls for the sluggish Heskey to make way for Tedddy Sheringham.

England started the game brightly and as early as the fifth minute won a corner. England captain David Beckham sent over a teasing cross which found Ferdinand unmarked on the far post. The Leeds defender headed the ball straight at Thomas Sorensen but the Danish ‘keeper fumbled the ball over his own line for the opening goal.

Denmark suffered another blow a minute later when AC Milan defender Thomas Helveg suffered an injury and was stretchered off to be replaced by Kasper Bogelund.

Five minutes later a fluid England movement saw Beckham delicately chip the ball into the path of Owen who mistimed his volley tamely into the ground.

The opening 15 minutes were all England as a through ball from Ashley Cole saw Heskey power past Danish defender Martin Laursen but with just the ‘keeper to beat, the Liverpool striker hit his shot straight at Sorensen.

England didn’t have to wait long for its second goal. A long ball was played to Trevor Sinclair out wide on the left wing who played a low cross to Nicky Butt in the box. Butt’s attempted flick-on deflected off a defender into the path of Owen who made no mistake with a left-foot shot that slotted in at the far post from close range breaking his goalscoring drought in the process.

A heavy downpour which succeeded in flattening Beckham’s mohican, while failing to dampen the battling Danish spirit, confirmed the opening of the floodgates as England grabbed a game-killing third goal.

With halftime approaching, a Danny Mills throw-in down the right found Beckham, whose perfectly weighted square ball saw Heskey thunder home a right-foot drive that skimmed past Sorensen.

The half ended with the ecstatic English fans tauntingly chanting, “Are you Scotland in disguise!” (a cheeky reference to its neighbor).

The second half deteriorated into an exhibition-type match with England content to play the ball around and give some of its key players a rest. Robbie Fowler was brought on for Owen and Sheringham came on for Heskey. Kieron Dyer also got a run in midfield in place of Paul Scholes.

The second half was not completely void of incident however, as Beckham dipped a long-range effort that forced a good save out of Sorensen.

In the 65th minute a well-struck shot from Bogelund that appeared headed for the back of the net inadvertently struck topscorer Tomasson on the head and deflected over the bar in a moment that probably summed up the night for the Danish side which did not play badly but just had a few bad breaks at crucial stages of the match.

“We never lost our spirit and I thought we played very well in the second half,” said Danish coach Morten Olsen.

For England Butt was outstanding in midfield, closing down the Danish attacks and controlling play. Ferdinand enhanced his reputation as one of the world’s best defenders with another commanding display at the heart of defense. Eriksson though will do well not to read too much into the result as although England played well, it was never brilliant and will have to raise its game again if it is to beat the winner of the Brazil-Belgium game in the next round. He can take heart, however, in the fact both his strikers managed to get back on the scoresheet with Owen in particular finding his goalscoring touch.

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