England 2 Poland 0: Four talking points as Rooney strikes
England 2 Poland 0: Four talking points as Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney book the Three Lions' place in Brazil
Time for Rooney to deliver on biggest stage
Wayne Rooney had found the net in his last five World Cup qualifiers heading into the Poland clash – and the England forward was his country’s match-winner at Wembley on Tuesday night. The Three Lions finally made a dominant 20-minute spell at the end of the first half count when unmarked Rooney rose highest to meet Leighton Baines’ cross and expertly place a header into the corner of Wojciech Szczesny’s net. The Red Devils striker moved past England legend Gary Lineker in England’s all-time goal-scorer charts – and is now 11 behind Sir Bobby Chalrton’s record 49 strikes. While Steven Gerrard, who sealed the 2-0 win in the 88th minute, spoke about his desire to leave a positive mark on his first – and only – qualifying campaign as captain, it’s very much Rooney’s time to shine, too. The 27-year-old is entering into the prime of his career, and while 38 England goals is a special tally, it’s time the United striker finally ended his major tournament drought. Otherwise, it will be a blotch on an otherwise decorated career.
Hodgson deserves credit for Baines and Townsend inclusions
Hodgson made three big calls for the final batch of World Cup qualifiers – and the England boss got all three right. Andros Townsend has brought a direct style to the Three Lions side which has been missing in recent years with the advent of the more versatile midfielder. Instead of playing it safe with the likes of James Milner or Jack Wilshere, Hodgson placed his faith in the Spurs winger – and how it paid dividends. The in-form Townsend was the match-winner against Montenegro and was the heartbeat of the side on Tuesday night. The 22-year-old struck the crossbar in the first half as he was irrepressible down the right wing – and is surely a certainty for Brazil if fit. Baines has filled in at left-back in the absence of injured Ashley Cole and the Everton defender will be pushing the Chelsea man for a first-team place next summer. The 28-year-old has been one of the Premier League’s standout performers and an assist for Rooney’s opener will increase his stock in Hodgson’s eyes. Finally, Michael Carrick replaced Frank Lampard for the clash against the Poles, helping England to retain possession. The United midfielder’s passing wasn’t at its metronomic best, but at the very least, allowed Gerrard to move further forward and probe the Poland back-line.
Lewandowski’s Wembley woes continue
Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski was earmarked as Poland’s danger man ahead of England’s crunch Group H tie – and the 25-year-old provided the heart-stopping moments that were predicted pre-match. The Polish talisman failed to find the net in his first trip to Wembley in May as Bayern Munich were 2-1 winners against Dortmund in the Champions League final. Although his goalless streak at England’s home of football continued, it proved a difficult task as Lewandowski came close to temporarily crushing the hosts’ World Cup dreams. The Dortmund man dragged a finish uncharacteristically wide in the first half after England were left stranded as Poland countered with pace not to dissimilar to Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund side. Lewandowski prompted another sharp intake of English breath after the interval when he beat the offside trap but Hart managed to get a thigh to the striker’s effort. It was Jan Tomaszewski who was the villain in 1973 – but Lewandowski was unable to leave his mark in this classic fixture.
Time to dream
England may have managed to top Group H, but the hard work has just begun. The Three Lions will now turn their attentions to next summer’s tournament in Brazil and England will hope to build on momentum gained in these two decisive qualifiers. Under Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello, England were guilty of choking when the spotlight was intensified (Croatia 2007 and 2010 World Cup) but there’s a dogged resilience to this Hodgson side – and they saved their best football for the Montenegro and Poland tests. Gerrard and company battled to the Euro 2012 quarter-finals in the manager’s first major tournament but his current side will be expected to show a more adventurous streak in Brazil. England certainly showed attacking intent against Poland. At times, it felt like Stuart Lancaster’s England rugby side were on the Wembley turf as opposed to Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions as the hosts battered away at the struggling Polish defence. There was intricate passing between Rooney, Sturridge and Danny Welbeck as Carrick and Gerrard dictated the tempo of the match. In Brazil’s demanding heat, England can’t afford to spend periods of games chasing shadows and must be more economical with possession. Hodgson has time to work on the Rooney-Sturridge-Welbeck axis which could be vital next summer.