England vs. Poland: Players Who Enhanced Their World Cup Selection Hopes
England beat Poland, 2-0, at Wembley on Tuesday night to secure a spot at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, with rivals Ukraine forced to settle for a place in next month's playoffs.
It was a unanimously well-received performance from the Three Lions, who played the first half of the clash at a tempo that has seldom been seen from the national team in recent years.
Plaudits will, justifiably, head in the direction of head coach Roy Hodgson, whose bold strategy over the last seven days saw England fly through two potentially tricky encounters with Montenegro and Poland with some ease.
However, it was the players who, ultimately, stood up to the challenge, so which individuals—outside of the dead certs—made the strongest case for their involvement at next year's World Cup?
One of the major players in Manchester United's title win last season, Carrick has, arguably, been the best English central midfielder in the Premier League for the past couple of seasons. He has, though, never been handed regular starts for his country.
Before his early withdrawal on Tuesday—the reason for which only Hodgson knows—Carrick put on a wonderful demonstration of how to play a deep-lying midfield role.
#Eng need to keep the ball. Coming off is Carrick - 66 passes @ 94% accuracy. At least 12 more passes than every other Eng player so far - ?— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) October 15, 2013
His passing, often first-time, was crisp and accurate—finishing with a 94 percent pass completion and second only to Steven Gerrard for time spent on the ball. He was a major reason behind England's domination of possession.
England have other good midfield options in Frank Lampard and Jack Wilshere, but neither can offer the balance the United man brings to the side. Given his talent, he has been criminally underused by his country in recent years.
Rewarded for his Man of the Match contribution against Montenegro, Spurs winger Townsend was once more integral to England's attacking play. His pace and direct running troubled Poland, while a 30-yard effort that smashed into the crossbar was almost the game's champagne moment.
Townsend, encouragingly, shows intelligence in his play from the right flank and, being able to use both feet well, he is comfortable taking on his defender on either side. He is a difficult player to handle.
Well done Andros Townsend. Has given England an energy and got the fans excited! Huge couple of games for him.— Leon Mann (@Leon_Mann) October 15, 2013
Hodgson placed a lot of faith in Townsend to pick him over a more defensively solid option such as James Milner, but his bold calls have been repaid—and Townsend has played himself into contention for a regular starting role.
If he can maintain his current form, there is no doubt the Spurs man will start for his country next summer.
Everton full-back Baines tailed off in the second half, but delivered an hour-long demonstration of just why many observers consider him to be a better option than established first-choice Ashley Cole.
He was outstanding early on, pressing high up the pitch, making tackles and interceptions and supplying tantalising crosses into the area. Indeed, it was a perfectly flighted cross from the Everton man that helped break the deadlock.
Between Baines and Townsend, England have a level of threat on the flanks not seen in years— Jonathan Northcroft (@JNorthcroft) October 15, 2013
Barring injury, Baines was always going to be a member of England's squad next summer, but the question is whether his exemplary display of attacking full-back play will have Hodgson questioning Cole's role as first-choice.
With further opportunities likely to come in friendlies, Baines will have chance to further press his claims. Any performance like that on Tuesday and Cole's place will be under serious threat.
And one from elsewhere...
It would be a gamble for Hodgson to take the young West Ham midfielder to the World Cup, but if he can maintain current form, then it would be difficult not to.
Morrison scored twice for England Under-21s on Tuesday night, including a second solo run and finish in just a matter of days. His composure and technical ability are astonishing, when he is fully focused on the task at hand.
The suggestion is that Morrison has straightened himself out at West Ham and is now concentrating on his football—which can only be a positive for England.
Along with Ross Barkley, the expectation has to be that Morrison will be given chances to impress in upcoming friendly fixtures. He may just be England's wild card next summer.
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