Goals in the dying minutes of both periods put England on course for a 2-0 win at home to Poland on Tuesday. With the victory came a berth in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
England came into the contest knowing nothing short of a win would see them avoid a potentially tricky, two-legged playoff next month. From the opening kickoff, they picked up where they left off in the second half of Friday’s 4-1 win against Montenegro.
Replacing Frank Lampard in the starting lineup, Michael Carrick added an element of rhythm to the England buildup while Andros Townsend persistently pestered Grzegorz Wojtkowiak down the attacking right flank.
Danny Welbeck, who put in another solid shift for his country, was the first to direct an attempt at goal after only 10 minutes, although his diving header from Townsend’s ball bounced wide of the target.
With The Three Lions enjoying upwards of 66 percent possession in the opening period, they nevertheless opened themselves up for the occasional counter. In the 23rd minute, Robert Lewandowski’s effort following an England corner missed Joe Hart’s near post by only an inch or two.
But as the first half wore on, England only continued to turn the screw. Following quality chances from Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge, they finally took the lead in the 41st minute when Rooney headed Leighton Baines’ superb cross past Wojciech Szczesny.
Poland had a rather more ambitious look about them after the restart and tested the English defense with a pair of corners early in the second half.
Their best chance of the night, however, came right on the hour mark when Lewandowski deftly controlled an arching pass as he ran between Baines and Phil Jagielka, raced in on Hart, and forced the England stopper into an awkward, flapping save.
As the minutes ticked off the clock, it looked as though the hosts were destined for the narrowest of victories. In the 88th minute, though, Gerrard skipped between a pair of Poland defenders and managed to poke the ball into the back of the net despite being hauled to the ground.
Key Player Grades
Wayne Rooney: A-
The Manchester United attacker seemed to be drifting in and out of the match at times, but his superb run late in the first half took him between the Poland centre-backs and created an uncontested header on Baines’ pinpoint cross.
Michael Carrick: A
Withdrawn in favour of Frank Lampard in the 71st minute, Carrick provided the sort of tempo England had lacked in the first half against Montenegro—touching the ball 73 times and completing an impressive 94 percent of his passes while seeming to form a decent partnership with Gerrard.
Robert Lewandowski: C
The Borussia Dortmund ace had five opportunities to score, but either missed the target or was stopped by Hart on each of them. His international performances have never seemed to match his showings for his club.
England are into the World Cup group stage draw, which will be held at the Mata de Sao Joao resort in Bahia on December 6.
Poland were already eliminated from World Cup qualification coming into Tuesday’s match at Wembley.
Statistics courtesy of Who Scored?