England 2 Poland 0 match report: Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney ensure qualification for 2014 World Cup - and give Roy Hodgson his place in Brazil sun

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Striker and captain score goals to book Three Lions place at 2014 World Cup

Wembley

The ghosts of England's past seemed like they were everywhere at the new Wembley, as the smoke from the Polish flares hung low like a 1970s throwback. Don't blow it. Don't cock things up. Don't mention the Dark Ages. Don't fall apart at the critical moment in the manner that so many of the white-shirted predecessors to Roy Hodgson's team have done over history.

At times it has felt like England have courted calamity in World Cup qualification, delaying their stand-out performances to the very end, but they are going to Brazil next summer. The glasses can clink and the champagne corks pop at the 150th anniversary party for the Football Association later this month without a lingering sense of foreboding about a November play-off. 

“F*** me,” Roy Hodgson said at one point when the ITV cameras panned in on him after one particularly dangerous Poland attack. Those two words might well have been the epitaph for the whole night's action. First, a whirlwind from Poland. Then a response from England in the second part of the first half that was the best they have mustered in the Hodgson era.

That last 20 minutes of the second half, against a determined, well-organised Poland team Hodgson's team sent waves of attack crashing against the away side's defence until eventually Wayne Rooney gave them the lead with a glancing header. He did so with his forehead unadorned by that headband accessory that is protecting his scar, having briefly discarded it. This was business time for England, and they rose to the occasion.

English football has felt pretty bad about itself at times over the last year, and for all the backslapping, the problems that Greg Dyke's FA commission must address still exist. But given the alternative to qualifying for Brazil was another exercise in starting from scratch and a lot more self-loathing, then this was infinitely more preferable.

It was not pretty, not in the second half, in fact it was pure bloody agony for the home support with Ukraine, naturally, winning in San Marino and only three points good enough to win Group H. England were up against a Poland team who played as if they had a World Cup place up for grabs or, say, a major incentive from an interested party. Probably it was just sheer pride, but for a team ranked 65th in the world, their performance was remarkable.

When Steven Gerrard finally scored the second with two minutes to play, Roy Hodgson's usually becalmed assistant Ray Lewington charged up and down the touchline alone, lost in his own little world of happiness.  On retaking his seat, Hodgson leant back in his chair and looked up at the night-sky with thinly-disguised emotion on his face. It had all been on him and he came through.

“I died a thousand deaths every time they [Poland] crossed the halfway line,” Hodgson said later. He also pointed out that it was fitting that Gerrard finally sealed the place in Brazil, having played a “captain's innings” in qualification. His passing, or at least his ball retention, does not match the rest of his game, but there is so much else, not least the power and energy of that late run that left him stretching to toe the ball past Wojciech Szczesny.

It was a monstrously entertaining first half in particular, played out amid a call-and-response atmosphere set up by the 18,000-strong Polish following. “We're Poland and we're playing at home,” they sang. They booed the England periods of possession and the usually half-interested Wembley crowd responded with indignation and then anger and, suddenly, we had a proper noise under the arch.

Wayne Rooney heads England into the lead (PA) Wayne Rooney heads England into the lead (PA)  

Poland were excellent in those opening stages. They had come to play and Hodgson's team were forced to deal with the best of it. Waldemar Sobota should have scored when the Poles worked the ball out to the left channel but he hit the side netting. It was tense and the England players had to face an onslaught that exceeded all expectations.

For a team that began the night fourth in a very average qualifying group, Poland moved the ball around with remarkable purpose. Never more so than in the 23rd minute when they broke the length of the pitch from an England corner eventually playing Robert Lewandowski into that troublesome left channel where his left foot shot across Joe Hart was just wide of the goalkeeper's far post.

Robert Lewandowski watches his shot just miss the target (Getty) Robert Lewandowski watches his shot just miss the target (Getty)  

These were tense times. In midfield, Michael Carrick, picked ahead of Frank Lampard, found himself closed down in those early stages. This being Carrick, he can still pass the ball beautifully through the briefing shifting spaces of a modern game, but he had to be at his best to do so.

Yet for all Poland's pressure, England eventually found the confidence and courage to play like a team. When they got the ball to Andros Townsend on the right, he never wasted it and always threatened. He committed defenders and got shots away. He looks the part.

The Polish fans added to an intense evening of football (AP) The Polish fans added to an intense evening of football (AP)  

In a two minute spell before the half hour, Townsend beat two opponents down the right and fed Daniel Sturridge who spent too long trying to get the ball out from underneath his feet to shoot rather than lay it back to Gerrard on the edge of the box. Next Townsend cut across the area and hit a shot with his left foot that clipped Szczesny's bar. He strikes the ball so cleanly with either foot you would be hard pressed at times to pick his favoured one.

Welbeck and Sturridge, for all their running and inventiveness, should have scored, especially the Manchester United man when the ball bounced up nicely for him in the area on 31 minutes. Gerrard improvised a fine pass on the run to Sturridge three minutes later but his second touch ran away from him. Szczesny saved from Rooney.

Andros Townsend's curling effort clattered against the bar (Getty) Andros Townsend's curling effort clattered against the bar (Getty)  

And then the breakthrough. An attack that started on the right, was switched left by Carrick to Leighton Baines - another very fine game from him - who picked out Rooney for a glancing header beyond Szczesny to give England a lead at half-time.

There was no sign of the Polish threat being extinguished after half-time, in fact they came back into the game more than in the final stage before the break. A minute into the half, Gary Cahill was obliged to throw himself in front of a shot from the substitute Mateus Klich, on at half-time, with a good opportunity opening up.

Wayne Rooney kisses the Three Lions in celebration (Getty) Wayne Rooney kisses the Three Lions in celebration (Getty)  

When Robert Lewandowski went through on the hour, it took Joe Hart to spread himself wide and get something on the ball to stop the shot going past him. By 65 minutes, England had completely lost the tempo and the control that they had exerted in the second part of the first half. Poland had made two changes then but Hodgson persisted with his starting XI. They looked tired.

It was Lampard who eventually came on in place of Carrick with less than 20 minutes to play, by which time England looked ragged. They were struggling to keep possession of the ball and the longer they were without it, the more they tired in pursuit of it.

Steven Gerrard seals England’s victory with a late goal (PA) Steven Gerrard seals England’s victory with a late goal (PA)  

Eventually, Jack Wilshere and then James Milner came on to give England greater energy and then, with two minutes left, Gerrard forced his way through Poland's tiring defence. The ball sat up for him and, stretching, he poked it past Szczesny. The job had been done and, in fairness, to Hodgson's players, a major test of character had been passed.

England (4-2-3-1): Hart; Smalling, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Carrick (Lampard 71); Townsend (Milner 86), Rooney, Welbeck; Sturridge (Wilshere 82).

Poland (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Celeban, Jedrzejczyk, Glik, Wojtkowiak; M Lewandowski (Klich ht), Krychowiak; Blaszczykowski, Mierzejewski (Zielinski 75), Sobota (Peszko 64); R Lewandowski.

Man of the match Rooney.

Rating 9/10.

Attendance 85,186.

Final Group H table

P/W/D/L/F/A/Pts

England (Q) 10/6/4/0/31/4/22

Ukraine (P-O) 10/6/3/1/28/4/21

Montenegro 10/4/3/3/18/17/15

Poland 10/3/4/3/18/12/13

Moldova 10/3/2/5/12/17/11

San Marino 10/0/0/10/1/54/0

England results

7 Sept 2012 Moldova 0-5 England. 11 Sept England 1-1 Ukraine. 12 Oct England 5-0 San Marino. 17 Oct Poland 1-1 England. 22 Mar 2013 San Marino 0-8 England. 26 Mar Montenegro 1-1 England. 6 Sept England 4-0 Moldova. 10 Sept Ukraine 0-0 England. 11 Oct England 4-1 Montenegro. 15 Oct England 2-0 Poland.

Play-off draw 21 Oct (matches played 15/19 Nov).

Finals draw 6 Dec.

Finals 12 June-13 July 2014.

Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice