Roy Hodgson’s side overcame early frustration for Wayne Rooney to strike and ensure and qualification for Brazil, unbeaten and unbowed. If not totally unnerved. Steven Gerrard rounded off the score late on to ensure that the final complexion of the game looked much more composed than it actually was.
“We always remained positive,” said Rooney. “We had a great focus and belief going into these two games. That came out.
“We have a good blend, are looking forward, excited and these are good times for England.”
England may not be favourites for the World Cup but they are at least in it without the peril of a play-off.
England were lively up front but hugely uncertain at the back. It was in fact the Polish who had the better of the early chances, with Robert Lewandowski wasting one exceptional opportunity on 22 minutes. That in itself only fed English anxiety, particularly that of Danny Welbeck, as far too many moves fell down at the young Manchester United’s feet.
One miss from within the six-yard box seemed to recall the worst of that night in 1973, when a remarkable draw denied Alf Ramsey’s side a place at the World Cup. It was that frantic, that pressurised. The key strike seemed both that close and that far away.
Then, Rooney illustrated his own class. On 42 minutes, Leighton Baines swerved in the cross, and the 27-year-old guided the ball into the bottom corner. This header marked his seventh goal of the qualifying group but, more importantly, the fifth such strike that has actually influenced the final score. He is now undeniably England’s most important player.
Although there were still a few nervous moments for England thereafter, Hodgson’s side were in control. Moments after half-time, Rooney played in a supreme ball from which Welbeck again missed.
The young forward’s profligacy was only matched at the other end by Lewandowski.
Minutes from the end, Gerrard held off the Polish defence to lift the ball past Wojciech Szczesny and in. “What we have shown is, when the going gets tough, we don’t concede goals,” said Gerrard.
“We have a great togetherness, are there for each other and proved we can perform under pressure.”
Hart; Smalling, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Carrick (Lampard 71), Gerrard; Townsend (Milner 86), Rooney, Welbeck; Sturridge (Wilshere 82)
Szczesny; Celeban, Jedrzejczyk, Glik, Wojtkowiak; Krychowiak, M Lewandowski (Klich 45); Blaszczykowski, Mierzejewski (Zielinski 76), Sobota (Peszko 65); R Lewandowski
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia).