Thursday, 17 October 2013 00:01
Reuters: Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard scored to send England to the World Cup finals with a 2-0 victory over Poland on Tuesday that gave them top spot in qualifying Group H on a thrilling and nervy night at Wembley.
Rooney’s 41st-minute breakthrough was brilliantly created and executed after a patient England build-up gathered pace when Leighton Baines crossed for the Manchester United striker, who nodded the ball down and wide of keeper Wojciech Szczesny.
The match was played on a knife-edge as anything other than a win would have consigned England to a potentially difficult two-legged playoff tie, with group rivals Ukraine cruising to an easy win over San Marino.
But midfielder Gerrard sparked English celebrations when he put the outcome beyond doubt in the 88th minute, cutting inside, bursting into the area and poking the ball past Szczesny.
England, unbeaten in their qualifying campaign, finish top of the section with 22 points, with Ukraine, who go into the playoffs, second on 21.
Manager Roy Hodgson, widely criticised after England’s 0-0 draw in Ukraine in September, said he had a feeling of great satisfaction - and joked that Gerrard’s late goal had taken “about 10 years” off his life.
“It was a tough group. Poland, Montenegro and Ukraine have shown themselves to be very good opponents,” Hodgson told ITV.
Cheered on by an estimated 20,000 fans who helped create a thrilling atmosphere often lacking when England are at home, the visitors never let England relax and never stopped looking for an equaliser after the break.
Rooney said England were worthy winners. “They had a couple of breaks but we played some great stuff, especially in the first half, and getting that goal gave us the belief and confidence we could go and win it,” he told ITV. “It was the same as the Montenegro game (on Friday) - a big part of our preparation was to be patient, and we fully deserved to win. We’ve always remained positive and had a belief about ourselves and we’ve gone out and shown tonight we are a good team.”
Gerrard was equally pleased but the Liverpool player also sounded a note of caution. “We started really well but the big lesson from tonight, in the second half, is that we have to play better against better teams,” he said.
“But we showed that when it gets tough we don’t concede goals. We know there’s a great togetherness in the squad, we fight for each other and, under tremendous pressure, we’ve shown we can perform.”