Goals from Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard sealed England's progression to the 2014 World Cup
England 2-0 Poland
FIFA World Cup 2014
Group H Qualifier
8pm, Tuesday 15 October 2013
England sealed their spot at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil with a thrilling and at times nail-biting victory over Poland.
Man of the match Wayne Rooney broke the deadlock late on in a first half full of chances before Steven Gerrard stole clear in the dying moments to round off a win over a feisty and feverishly supported Polish side.
With Ukraine predictably sweeping aside San Marino 8-0 in Serravalle, England had to win to guarantee their place at the South American showpiece.
Roy Hodgson replaced the suspended Kyle Walker with Chris Smalling at right-back and gave Michael Carrick a starting place in midfield in favour of Frank Lampard.
And the England boss will have been impressed with his side’s performance in testing and stressful circumstances.
From the outset Poland’s game plan was clear, with the visitors setting up a strong barrier in midfield and giving the England midfielders little time to pick their passes.
Robert Lewandowski – who lit up Wembley in May playing for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final – was a reminder of the threat posed by the visitors.
But England started brightly, with Rooney and Daniel Sturridge combining effectively, while Leighton Baines was given plenty of space to advance from left-back.
Indeed it was Baines who pressed forwards to set up the hosts’ first half-chance, crossing dangerously for Sturridge and leaving Piotr Celeban to clear for a corner, inches wide of his own goal.
Then came the Three Lions’ first serious warning. Mariusz Mierzejweski broke rapidly from an England corner and switched the ball from right to left. Approaching at pace, Grzegorz Krychowiak drilled a low shot which had Joe Hart beaten but fizzed narrowly wide of the far post.
Within seconds England were back at the other end, with the ball falling kindly for Sturridge though the Liverpool striker just failed to get the ball out from out under his feet.
Andros Townsend then thumped a shot from the edge of the area and onto the crossbar, before Sturridge forced another fine save from Arsenal No1 Szczesny.
Baines was wreaking havoc with his set-piece delivery and on the half-hour he picked out Welbeck, who brought the ball down for himself, only to recoil in frustration as his prodded effort drifted wide.
It looked set to be one of the most action-packed goalless first-halves in Wembley’s long history – but Rooney put paid to that moments before the break.
The Manchester United star showed he had a head for occasion when, seconds after losing his protective headband, he stole clear of another Baines cross and nodded powerfully into the far corner for the 38th goal of his England career.
However, there was still time for Poland to leave England with their hearts in their mouths as Waldemar Sobota calmly steered past Hart but was denied a goal by an offside flag.
Half-time brought respite but little change in attitude as England attacked from the off.
Rooney steered in a dangerous cross from the right-hand side which was redirected across goal by Welbeck and Gary Cahill then forced Szczesny into a diving save from the following corner.
Poland were proving just as capable of threatening their net as England. Rooney drove forward again and while Kamil Glik was able to cut out the cross, the ball trickled close enough to have half the stadium cheering.
Then for around 15 minutes the excitement that had gripped Wembley made way for tension.
Poland probed and pressed England’s centre-backs, Cahill and Phil Jagielka, into some stressful moments, and the chances at the other end began to dry up.
Sturridge came close with a powerful shot through a crowd which left Sczcesny scrambling, while Townsend continued to look lively.
But England’s main concern was with stemming opposition attacks, and substitute Frank Lampard and Rooney both picked up bookings for fouling Poland players.
And if Gerrard’s fatigue-fighting run with two minutes remaining brought the goal that finally settled Wembley’s home support, the memories of a thrilling finale to England’s World Cup qualifying campaign will live long.
1 Joe Hart; 2 Chris Smalling, 5 Gary Cahill, 6 Phil Jagielka, 3 Leighton Baines; 4 Steven Gerrard (c), 8 Michael Carrick (16 Frank Lampard, 71); 7 Andros Townsend (17 James Milner, 85), 10 Wayne Rooney, 11 Daniel Welbeck; 9 Daniel Sturridge (15 Jack WIlshere, 82).
Substitutes not used 12 Phil Jones, 13 John Ruddy, 14 Kieran Gibbs, 18 Ross Barkley, 19 Jermain Defoe, 20 Raheem Sterling, 21 Rickie Lambert, 22 Fraser Forster.
Manager Roy Hodgson
Goals Rooney 41, Gerrard 88
Bookings Lampard, Rooney
1 Wojciech Szczesny; 19 Piotr Celeban, 3 Artur Jedrzejczyk, 15 Kamil Glik, 2 Grzegorz Wojtkowiak; 6 Mariusz Lewandowski (11 Mateusz Klich, ht), 8 Grzegorz Kryhowiak; 16 Jakub Blaszczykowski, 18 Adrian Mierejewski (10 Piotr Zielinski, 75), 5 Waldemar Sobota (17 Slawomir Peszko, 65); 9 Robert Lewandowski.
Subs: 12 Artur Boruc, 4 Tomasz Jodlowiec, 7 Eugen Polanski, 13 Marcin Wasilewski, 14 Jakub Wawrzyniak, 20 Artur Sobiech, 21 Jakub Rzezniczak, 22 Lukasz Fabianski.
Head Coach Waldemir Fornalik
Referee Damir Skomina (Svn)
Assistants Matej Zunic and Bojan Ul (Svn)
Fourth Official Matej Jug (Svn)