England needed a win against Poland in order to guarantee a place in next summer's World Cup and avoid the lottery of the playoff rounds. Although they had to survive some scares in perhaps the most entertaining England match in years, they duly got their points, beating the Poles, 2-0, and ensuring a successful end to the qualification campaign.
England had a very nervy start. Although they looked dangerous whenever they went forward -- more a commentary on the porous nature of the Poland defense than a testament to the Three Lions' creativity, the visitors looked an utter menace on the break and should probably have opened the scoring. Twice, Borussia Dortmund dangerman Robert Lewandowski got himself into dangerous positions, but his first shot was hit tamely straight at Joe Hart and the second was screwed just wide of the post.
For most of the first half, England were upstaging Poland on the "How did he miss that?" front, with Daniels Sturridge and Welbeck providing great merriment as they pranced about Wojciech Szczesny's penalty area until they found an opportunity to fall over the ball or hit implausibly wide from point blank range. Their teammates, however, were in no mood to be generous.
Andros Townsend had a fabulous England debut against Montenegro and continued his good work here. The Tottenham Hotspur winger came very close to opening up the scoring with a swerving shot, which cannoned back off the crossbar (Szczesny probably had it covered anyway), and both he and Wayne Rooney were causing the Polish defense some real problems whenever they were on the ball.
The goal would eventually come via Rooney. An England attack broke down, but the ball was quickly recycled to Leighton Baines on the left flank. His cross found Rooney in a silly amount of space, and the striker's glancing header found its way into the bottom corner for a 1-0 lead.
Poland mounted a furious response, and quickly had the ball in the back of the net via Waldemar Sobota only for his strike to be ruled out correctly for offside. That was a taster of things to come as the visitors came out with real intent after the interval, pinning England back in their own half, but again, the prospect of a Poland goal was illusory, Hart's stop on Lewandowski ensuring that the lead stood.
Once more, England would push Poland back. Gary Cahill forced a fine stop from Szczesny on a corner, and the Poles nearly dug themselves into a bigger hole when his attempt to put Rooney's cross behind came within inches of becoming a comedy own goal. Rooney was then denied a brace thanks to another excellent save from Szczesny, the Arsenal goalkeeper throwing himself to his left to keep out the long-range attempt.
The hosts needed a second goal to feel safe, but it seemed rather reluctant to appear, forcing a rather tense finale which was perhaps made tenser thanks to Roy Hodgson swapping Frank Lampard on for Michael Carrick with 20 minutes to go. The general feeling of angst that permeated the Wembley air, however, was dissipated thanks to Steven Gerrard, who finally killed the match off by squirming his way through a mass of defenders before poking over Szczesny, booking England's place in Brazil in the process.
England starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Chris Smalling, Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines; Michael Carrick (Frank Lampard 71'), Steven Gerrard; Andros Townsend (James Milner 86'), Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck; Daniel Sturridge (Jack Wilshere 82').
Goals: Rooney 41', Gerrard 89'.
Poland starting lineup (4-2-3-1): Wojciech Szczesny; Piotr Celeban, Artur Jedrzejczyk, Kamil Glik, Grzegorz Wojtkowiak; Grzegorz Krychowiak, Mariusz Lewandowski (Mateusz Klich 45'); Jakub Blaszczykowski, Adrian Mierzejewski (Piotr Zielinski 76'), Waldemar Sobota (Slawomir Peszko 65'); Robert Lewandowski.