LONDON (AP) – Wayne Rooney marked the start of his England captaincy by scoring a penalty in an uninspiring 1-0 victory over Norway in front a record-low crowd for the team at the new Wembley Stadium.
In England's first game since its worst-ever World Cup showing, Roy Hodgson's side rarely looked like scoring against unambitious opposition and the breakthrough in the friendly only came when Raheem Sterling was tripped in the penalty area. From the penalty spot, Rooney's 41st international goal in the 68th minute gave the 28-year-old striker sole possession of fourth place on the England scoring leaderboard, just eight behind Bobby Charlton's record.
"We all could have done better," Rooney said. "In the first half we moved quite well but they made it difficult for us and sat back and created a few opportunities in the first half. In the second half we started really sloppy and that was disappointing as we wanted to go out and really take the game to them."
The attendance was given as 40,181 but appeared to be lower at 90,000-capacity stadium, given it included the 17,000 Club Wembley members who have access to every game. The previous lowest since the new stadium opened in 2007 saw 48,876 attend a 2011 friendly against Sweden.
When England left Brazil early after losing twice and drawing once, this friendly was always going to be a tough sell when England is contracted to playing all home games at Wembley. With stalwart midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard retiring after the World Cup, this was being billed as the start of a new era, with the average age of the starting lineup 24 as England prepares for the start of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship at Switzerland on Monday.
In the post-World Cup post mortem much scrutiny has come on the limiting opportunities for English youngsters. That was highlighted when the summer transfer window closed with the bulk of the 835 million pounds ($1.38 billion) splurged by Premier League clubs being on foreign players. The Norwegians, who open Euros qualifying against Italy, should be more worried about the state of a national team, which hasn't qualified for a tournament since Euro 2000 and was content sitting back for much of game in north London, showing limited ambition.
But England struggled on the ball to capitalize on its domination, with goalkeeper Orjan Nyland rarely troubled. In Sterling, though, England has an electrifying 19-year-old talent. The Liverpool winger's vision was clear when he sent a 25th-minute crossfield ball that went high to the feet of Daniel Sturridge, who could only clip it onto the roof of the net.
Yet it was England goalkeeper Joe Hart who had the first save to make just before halftime from Tarik Elyounoussi and appeared uneasy when he had a seemingly easy cross to deal with. At the start of the second half, Hart had to produce a diving one-handed save to keep out a header from Joshua King who rose above inexperienced defender John Stones.
But it was Sterling's pace that eventually spared England from embarrassment, when he was brought down by Omar Elabdellaoui's sliding challenge. And Hodgson was then presented with a quandary, with England appearing more dangerous up front in the last 20 minutes after Rooney had been replaced by former Manchester United teammate Danny Welbeck.
The striker, who joined Arsenal on Monday, briefly enlivened a subdued crowd with his endeavor, striking well only to be denied by Nyland. Hodgson was able to send defender Calum Chambers and midfielder Fabian Delph off the bench to make their debuts, but this friendly showed that progress could be slow with a young team.