England will be at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil after a comprehensive 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley Stadium sealed qualification from Group H.
Wayne Rooney nodded in four minutes before half-time while Steven Gerrard’s late strike sealed a deserved win for England’s impressive performance.
The win seals England’s place in Brazil, but the three points was needed after Ukraine comfortably beat San Marino 8-0.
Roy Hodgson made two changes from the team that beat Montenegro last time out as Chris Smalling replaced the suspended Kyle Walker and Michael Carrick added a more defensive mind in the midfield ahead of Frank Lampard. Poland were backed by a large following of an estimated 18,000 away fans, but it was the in-form Andros Townsend who had England starting on the front foot.
The Tottenham Hotspur winger scored on his international debut in the win on Friday and nearly made it two in two games with a rasping drive from 25 yards, but Wojciech Szczesny made a good diving save to keep it out. At the other end, Waldemar Sobotar nearly caught Joe Hart out with a low drive at the near post but the winger pulled his shot inches wide from a good position.
Poland looked very dangerous on a counter-attack armed with Borussia Dortmund goal-hunter Robert Lewandowski, but the striker should have done better with a chance in the 23rd minute. Jakub Blaszczykowski’s clever dummy allowed Lewandowski to race into the penalty area but his slashed shot on his left foot flew wide to the relief of Hodgson on the bench.
England were putting in a polished performance though and seemed to create chance after chance in the first half. Phil Jagielka sent a free header wide from Gerrard’s corner while Townsend was unlucky to see a powerful long-range strike thump back off the crossbar from 30 yards. The rebound fell to Gerrard who laid it on a plate for Daniel Sturridge, but the Liverpool striker was denied from a tight angle by Szczesny’s good save.
Danny Welbeck provided one of the worst misses you will see when he instinctively swung a leg at Gerrard’s corner from four yards out, but he sent the ball wide when it looked easier to score. It was a bad miss, but England kept piling on the pressure as Sturridge pulled a shot wide from 20 yards and Rooney forced Szczesny into a good diving save after brilliantly twisting away from his marker,
The pressure paid off for England as they took an important lead in the 41st minute. Leighton Baines got forward from left-back and delivered a perfectly-flighted cross that Rooney expertly directed into the bottom corner with his header. It was a well-worked goal from England that Poland could do nothing about and the goal had been coming thanks to all the England chances.
The missed chances proved to be a hindrance to England’s second half as nerves filled the Wembley Stadium as the game wore on. Poland failed to create any chances to take advantage of that though and England could have made it 2-0 thanks to Gary Cahill’s header, but Szczesny made yet another good save in an impressive performance from the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Both Rooney and Sturridge were denied by the Polish shot-stopper after creating space for themselves and delivering good efforts, but England did wrap up the result with two minutes to go.
Gerrard broke into the penalty area thanks in part to luck and in part to a good touch, but there was nothing lucky about the dinked finish from the England captain as he sent the ball past Szczesny from six yards. It was fitting that Gerrard would get the decisive goal as he was brilliant all game and proved to be a calming standard for the England players.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)