Everything was set, the crowd were in, the atmosphere was
electric, the England team were on a high after the fine win against
Montenegro, all that was left was for them to do, was to finish the
job of qualifying for next summer's World Cup in Brazil.
And on this night they did just that, and in
fine style too.
After a cagey opening five minutes, England began
to push Poland back, and they were to stay on the front foot for
almost all of the 90 minutes.
The first real chance came on eight minutes when Michael
Carrick and Wayne Rooney combined well to set up Leighton Baines for
one of those trademark crosses of his.
As the ball came in Grzegorz Wojtkowiak just managed to
intercept and clear for a corner.
Good job he did because Danny Welbeck was waiting to pounce
behind him. The only
danger from Poland was always going to come from a breakaway, and from
England's corner, Poland did break, and Robert Lewandowski was able to
fire in a shot which Joe Hart saved.
Andros Townsend was looking to carry on where he
had left off against Montenegro, and already he was showing his pace.
On ten minutes he finally had a sight of goal as bustling play
by Welbeck gave him possession in the centre-forward position.
Townsend didn't hesitate, and fired in a great shot which
Wojciech Szczesny only saved at full stretch.
Welbeck couldn't quite force the rebound over the line as he
was shoved off balance by a defender.
The pressure was building though and England were playing well
Still the danger from the Poles was there though
and Waldemar Sobota shot into the side-netting at Hart's near post
after another swift breakaway.
At the other end Chris Smalling came within a whisker of a
touch to Steven Gerrard's wicked inswinging free-kick.
But the best chance of the match so far fell to Poland on 22
minutes. A brilliant
breakaway following an England corner saw a clever dummy set up danger
man Lewandowski with a clear shot.
Luckily for England he screwed his shot wide of Hart's
left-hand post and we all breathed again!
The game was still finely balanced but England
still came forward positively, with Townsend looking lively, Welbeck
always involved and Rooney looking to strike at every opportunity.
Carrick was playing a good pivotal role in midfield and
although Gerrard was really busy his final passing was letting him
down a little. The best
outlet from an attacking point of view was coming from Baines's
brilliant runs down the left. A flurry of activity came from another
of his superb crosses just before the half hour mark.
Welbeck then set up Townsend and the Tottenham forward showed
no fear as he let fly with his left foot from 20 yards.
The ball beat Szczesny all ends up but crashed back off the
crossbar. The ball found
Daniel Sturridge and his quick feet opened up another chance with a
fierce angled shot at goal.
This time Szczesny made a fine block as a goal seemed imminent.
Another fine move between Gerrard and Baines
ended with a marvellous interception from Grzegorz Krychowiak.
From the corner a goalmouth scramble ensued and Welbeck poked
in a shot that went agonisingly wide, with everyone's head in their
hands in exasperation. The
pressure continued though, as Sturridge shot wide, Rooney and Gerrard
combined for Welbeck to go close again, and Rooney himself had another
shot saved. Also the
Polish defenders twice threw bodies into shots to block the way to
goal. The goal had to come
and on 41 minutes, finally, England broke through.
Carrick fed Baines and this time the cross was
inch-perfect as Rooney rose majestically to score with a fantastic
header wide of the goalkeeper.
It was going to take a superb goal to beat the in-form Szczesny
and this was certainly worthy of that accolade.
Two minutes later Sturridge missed a golden chance to make it
two when Rooney's corner gave him a free header at the far post, so
close. Sobota then found
the net for Poland but the flag was already up for offside.
That was the last real action of a pulsating first-half and
there was still much to do for the England players.
After the break England started sluggishly and
Poland almost took advantage.
Only a fine block by Gary Cahill prevented half-time substitute
Mateusz Klich from making a sensational appearance.
From the corner Klich had another chance but shot over, it was
another warning for the England players.
But to be fair England were soon on the offensive
again as first Sturridge and then Welbeck re-asserted England's power
with good efforts. Welbeck
then almost set another chance up after a lovely cross from Rooney,
and then Gerrard's corner was headed at goal by Cahill and only a fine
save from Szczesny saved Poland again.
The game was nip and tuck for a while with Carrick showing some
fine controlled passing for England and Poland having their best spell
of possession, without penetration.
On 56 minutes Krychowiak made a desperate interception to
Rooney's great cross and so nearly put through his own goal.
That was another head in the hands moment, especially for an
anguished Roy Hodgson on the bench!
Another good move looked likely to bring another
shot from Rooney but he took one touch too many and the opening was
gone. Gerrard shot just
wide before Poland created their best chance.
Lewandowski beat the offside and latched on to a lobbed pass,
but Hart came out quickly, stood tall, and just managed to half block
the shot with Phil Jagielka completing the clearance, phew!
Townsend's run and shot was saved and this was
nervous times for England.
Knowing that one mistake or a poor refereeing decision could undo all
their excellent work so far.
1-0 was never going to be safe, and to their credit England
continued to press forward in search of a game clinching second goal.
Rooney fired in a great shot after combining with the
impressive Welbeck, and the goalkeeper saved well again.
Then Hodgson withdrew Carrick for Frank Lampard, Carrick going
off to a well- deserved ovation.
Lampard's first contribution was to be booked and then Poland
also had their first booking with Artur Jedrzejczyk incurring the
wrath of the excellent referee Damir Skomina, who I thought had a
Sturridge then burst into the box to force
another fine save from Szczesny, and the match was reaching its
Rooney was booked,
Jack Wilshere and James Milner came on as substitutes for Sturridge
and Townsend and two minutes later, at last, England secured the
result. Milner's quick
lobbed pass found the skipper and Gerrard, for the first time, ran at
the defence. He crashed
past two attempted tackles and as he fell he managed to toe-poke the
ball wide of the goalkeeper.
Cue joyous scenes around the country, and a wonderful shot of
the relief on Roy Hodgson's face.
Boy, how we all shared that relief!
Welbeck continued to make a nuisance of himself
to force a corner, but now the stuffing had finally been knocked out
of the battling Poles and the England fans were already celebrating as
the referee blew his final whistle.
It had been a brilliant game of football, and considering so much was
at stake, a fine performance by England.
So many players did well on the night and we can all now make
plans to give a good showing in Brazil next summer.
It has been a tough journey, but was there ever any doubt we
wouldn't make it? I will leave
you to make that decision. A
great Wembley night and the new stadium is starting to create a good
deal of terrific memories now, long may it continue.
And one last thing, after writing this report I can finally