Rooney and Gerrard lead England to World Cup

Wayne Rooney: Scored opener. Picture: PA
Wayne Rooney: Scored opener. Picture: PA
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Wayne Rooney hailed what he believes are “good times” for England after they booked their place at next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

The striker’s header set Roy Hodgson’s men on their way to a 2-0 win over Poland at Wembley which ensured they topped Group H.

Progression was secured by victory over Montenegro on Friday and this victory, and Rooney was a pleased man – especially after captain Steven Gerrard put the icing on the cake late on. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, they had a couple of breaks and could have scored, but we played some great stuff in the first and second half. Getting the goal gave us some belief, the confidence to go on. We believed we could win and then Stevie’s goal has seen us qualify.”

The Manchester United man added: “A big part of our preparation was being patient. We knew we may even have to win the game in the last ten, five minutes. We kept our focus and deserved to win. We always remained positive no matter what was said. We had a great focus and belief going into these two games. That came out.

“We have some fantastic young players, experienced ones like Steve, Frank (Lampard) and me, we have a good blend, are looking forward, excited and these are good times for England.”

Captain Gerrard, who led from the front as he has done throughout an unbeaten qualifying campaign, added: “Tonight we started really well. The big lesson is to play better in the second half. Against better teams we might get hurt. We need to keep the ball better.

“But what we have shown is, when the going gets tough, we don’t concede goals.”

England have faced some media and fan criticism throughout the campaign, but Gerrard said: “Since I made my England debut there has always been criticism from the outside. What it makes you do is work harder to prove people wrong.

“We have a great togetherness and are there for each other.”

Hodgson relieved as his rebuilt side ravage Poles to reach finals

ROY Hodgson wore the look of a man who was rather pleased with the job he had just completed. Pleased and relieved.

Fists shaking, a grin as wide as Wembley’s arch. England had beaten Poland 2-0 at Wembley to secure their place at the World Cup finals in Brazil next summer and all in the English football firmament was well.

It was not perhaps a performance to shake Germany and Spain to the core. It was too edgy and fraught for that. But it was one of zest and vigour by a Hodgson team which has now lost just once in 22 matches under his guidance.

Momentum is growing. Shape is improving. Balance, is beginning to appear. And England are there with eight months to hone their potential before the action begins in Rio.

For so long that eventuality had been in doubt, which is why there was genuine joy on the faces of players who, some people say, care more for their clubs than their country.

Not so. Not if the reactions of captain Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, who scored the crucial goals, are anything to go by after a night which was tingling with tension.

In a seething atmosphere, with 20,000 Poles jeering England’s every move, the nerves were stretched, the character was tested. It was a trial, too, of England’s patience as they swarmed forward in search of goals.

Hodgson has been accused of caution in the past, but there was no room for any timidity this night and England showed none. They tore into Poland. It was not always cerebral in a tactical sense, but it was raw and full of tempo

England were equipped for that. They had youth and vigour in Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck. They had Michael Carrick, in for Frank Lampard and lending his passing precision and a bit more protection to the back four.

Crucially, England had two wide men in Tottenham winger Andros Townsend, fresh from his scintillating debut against Montenegro, and Leighton Baines, the Everton full-back who gives England an extra dimension.

Time and again England used him to thrust and probe and after Townsend had struck the crossbar and Welbeck had a plethora of shots saved, it was Baines who supplied the cross for the vital first goal.

It was swung savagely and precisely on to the head of Rooney, who dispatched it with the aplomb of a striker who has now scored 38 England goals.

The real beauty of this England side, however, is not the maturing of Baines or even the uplifting emergence of Townsend. It is the fact that there is menace everywhere going forward.

True, it could have been different if Robert Lewandowski had not skewed wide a shot almost certainly he would have converted with ease for Borussia Dortmund after England’s central defence had been dissected. Or if Mateusz Klich had cashed in on lax England defending within moments of half-time.

But this was not a night to dwell on England shortcomings. It was a night to celebrate Hodgson’s accomplishment. He has rebuilt this England side, moulded youth and experience, identified the menace of Townsend. Given England football a measure of pride.

No mean feat. They will still not go to the World Cup with great expectation. But they will go with hope.