Lampard's flourish allows revitalised England to enjoy rites of passage

England 2 Poland 1

The star of the cast was Wayne Rooney and his contribution was an occasionally thrilling combination of dribbling, shooting and passing that made you wonder where England sought their inspiration before he was handed a white shirt for the first time in February 2003. But beyond Rooney this was a team that was altered radically, built upon the defensive instincts of Ledley King in front of the back four - balanced on the speed and width offered by Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole.

A team with a genuine holding midfielder and two orthodox wingers - and without David Beckham and Steven Gerrard - that sealed first place for England in Group Six in such style is a beguiling prospect for those who take a close interest in the politics and hierarchy of this England squad. A performance that has done so much to save Eriksson might yet, prove one more stick with which the Swede is beaten when the missing luminaries are returned, as they doubtless will be, for the friendly against Argentina on 12 November.

For parts of this game, and the first half in particular, this was an England cut loose from the inhibitions that so often stalk Eriksson's sides. Frank Lampard was liberated from defensive concerns by King's presence, Rooney was freed from the captivity of a 4-5-1 formation and Michael Owen equalled Gary Lineker's international record of 22 goals in competitive matches. A strict economy ruled their passing and they attacked with a strident purpose as Rooney assumed that dual role of striker and playmaker that characterises his best performances.

Before we extend a rash invitation to Brazil to give this England team their best shot it should be acknowledged that Poland seemed overawed by the blitz with which they were met in the opening stages of this game. If this was not quite a warning to the other big beasts who lie in wait in Germany, then it was at least an assurance that England have overcome some of the horror of those defeats to Denmark and Northern Ireland - neither of whom will be at the World Cup.

By the end of the match Eriksson was sufficiently emboldened to wander to the edge of his training area, a move he normally reserves only for moment of serious crisis, and his only complaint of the evening came with 25 minutes left. The Swede summoned Wright-Phillips to the bench and replaced him with Peter Crouch, who was greeted by boos from his own supporters.

It was a pity for the Liverpool striker, who was treated to a roar of approval when his head made its first clean connection with the ball. By then England were chasing a winning goal with three strikers after substitute Tomasz Frankowski had equalised Michael Owen's 44th-minute opening goal in first-half injury-time.

Again and again in the first half the eye was drawn back to Rooney. On seven minutes he broke out of midfield with a trail of red shirts behind him, veering left. The remaining defenders seemed gripped by fear and allowed him a clear route into the area where he could not get his pass away.

An earlier tangle between Rooney and the defender Radoslaw Sobolewski had left you fearing for his temper, but the England striker simply leant down and helped his opponent up.

In control of his anger, he was still very much the same Rooney in his appetite for goal, as another shot flew over on 27 minutes when he spun round defender Mariusz Jop. Owen claimed the 33rd goal of his international career, when a loose ball fell to Cole on the left side of the area. His shot found its way into the goalmouth and was flicked home by the Newcastle striker.

A minute later Poland summoned up the strength for their first attack of the game and it produced an equaliser. Kamil Kosowski had two attempts to cross from the right and when his ball reached the far post Luke Young had left Tomasz Frankowski unattended and the substitute volleyed home.

Just before Crouch's arrival, Owen was presented with an inviting opportunity to head home a second from Cole's cross from the left, but instead drew an exceptional save from Boruc. The winning goal came 10 minutes from time when a sequence of six passes, beginning with Crouch in his own area, found Owen, who lofted a gentle ball to the back post where Lampard adjusted his stride perfectly to volley home.

The Chelsea midfielder had one of his very best games since Euro 2004 in a role that must have seemed so much more familiar to him. Whether Eriksson will ever have the nerve to grant him the same freedom again will depend on how much longer the Swede is prepared to resist permanent change in his team selection. One thing Eriksson can be sure of is that nights like these are much more preferable to those he has suffered in the recent past.

England (4-4-2): Robinson (Tottenham); Young (Charlton), Ferdinand (Manchester United), Terry (Chelsea), Carragher (Liverpool); Wright-Phillips (Chelsea), King (Tottenham), Lampard (Chelsea), Cole (Chelsea); Rooney (Manchester United), Owen (Newcastle United). Substitutes used: Crouch (Liverpool) for Wright-Phillips, 58; Jenas (Tottenham) for Owen, 84; Smith (Manchester United) for Cole, 87.

Poland (4-4-2): Boruc (Celtic); Baszczynski (Wisla Krakow), Jop (FK Moscow), Bak (Al Rayan), Zewlakow (Anderlecht); Smolarek (Borussia Dortmund), Sobolewski (Wisla Krakow), Lewandowski (Shaktar Donetsk), Kosowski (Southampton); Rasiak (Tottenham), Zurawski (Celtic). Substitutes used: Frankowski (Elche) for Zurawski, 39; Radomski (Austria Vienna) for Sobolewski, 80.

Referee: K M Nielsen (Denmark).

Who's going to Germany

QUALIFIED FROM EUROPE

Already qualified Germany (as hosts), Croatia, England, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Ukraine.

Qualified last night: Sweden, Serbia & Montenegro, France.

Through to a play-off *: Norway, Czech Rep, Turkey, Spain, Switzerland, Slovakia.

QUALIFIED FROM REST OF THE WORLD

South America: Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay.

Africa: Angola, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia.

Asia: Iran, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea.

Concacaf: Costa Rica, Mexico, United States.

* Draw for play-offs is made tomorrow

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