England fell to a first home defeat in two years as out-of-sorts Harry Maguire’s sending off was compounded by Denmark centurion Christian Eriksen scoring a controversially-awarded penalty.
Three days on from impressively coming back to beat Belgium to go top of their Nations League group, Gareth Southgate’s side stumbled to a first defeat on home soil since September 2018.
Eriksen’s penalty shortly after Maguire received two bookings in 31 wretched minutes were the key moments at an empty Wembley, where Denmark held on for a 1-0 win against visibly-frustrated England.
That frustration boiled over after the match, with referee Jesus Gil Manzano sending off impressive full debutant Reece James for dissent.
It was a galling end to October’s triple-header, with the post-match focus sure to be on Maguire after a nightmare performance continued a testing period for the defender on and off the field.
The 27-year-old has started the campaign poorly after a truncated pre-season overshadowed by a well-documented Greek court case, with the Manchester United captain sent off for two yellow cards.
Maguire’s fifth-minute challenge on Yussuf Poulsen was bad but his lunge on Kasper Dolberg was worse, with the steepness of England’s uphill battle soon increasing as Eriksen scored from the spot.
Confusion reigned at the decision to award the spot-kick that the former Tottenham playmaker lashed home, with England failing with their attempts to level.
Kasper Schmeichel superbly denied Mason Mount and Conor Coady saw a last-gasp header cleared off the line as the Three Lions failed to eke out a leveller on a night when Southgate’s anger was palpable.
The England boss was warned for one outburst and referee Manzano wrapped up a terrible night by sending off James after the final whistle.
Denmark started the brighter and Poulsen, who dusted himself down after the early foul that led to Maguire’s first booking, fired in a cross that Conor Coady just stopped Dolberg turning home.
The forward saw an effort deflect wide off Kalvin Phillips as the Danes continued on the front foot, with Robert Skov and Eriksen having chances.
Marcus Rashford failed with a hopeful effort but England were settling and Mount was proving a nuisance down the right in tandem with impressive Chelsea team-mate James.
Kane saw a scuffed attempt from Mount’s cutback blocked by Simon Kjaer as the match entered a period that changed the dynamics of this Group A2 clash.
Maguire’s attempts to make amends from his mishit pass saw him catch Dolberg with a dreadful recovery challenge that led to a second booking.
There could be no arguments over that sending off, but the penalty decision that soon followed was contentious.
Jordan Pickford strayed off his line and Thomas Delaney hit the deck as Kyle Walker attempted to clear.
Referee Manzano surprisingly pointed to the spot and Eriksen – on his 100th international appearance – rifled the penalty down the middle.
Tyrone Mings replaced Ainsley Maitland-Niles as Southgate went to a back four, with England seeing more of the ball despite the numerical disadvantage.
But there was to be no leveller before the break and the Three Lions continued to struggle in their attempts to create clear-cut chances, with James trying a fizzing effort in the 63rd minute.
Schmeichel comfortably dealt with that attempt but had to be at his best soon after when Mount got away a close-range header that he superbly stopped with a one-handed reaction save.
Daniel Wass ghosted past Kyle Walker to head over as Denmark threatened, with substitute Pione Sisto fluffing his lines as the visitors looked to put the game to bed.
Southgate’s frustrations were audible after a foul was called against Phillips, leading referee Manzano to have a word with him.
The England boss made three changes in quick succession as they pushed for an equaliser, with Schmeichel tipping over a James free-kick before penalty claims fell on deaf ears.
Jordan Henderson and Phillips were booked as Manzano lost control of proceedings, although the hosts continued to push forward and Coady saw a header cleared off the line at the death.
The full-time whistle did not bring an end to the drama, though, as James followed Maguire in being sent off.