LONDON (AP) — After another tense match, England is headed to its fifth straight World Cup.
Wayne Rooney scored in the first half and Steven Gerrard in the second, leading England over Poland 2-0 Tuesday night and clinching its 14th World Cup appearance.
Rooney scored in his seventh goal in his last six qualifiers, meeting Leighton Baines’ cross in the 41st minute. Gerrard bundled the ball into the net in the 88th.
“We have a great togetherness, are there for each other and proved we can perform under pressure,” Gerrard said.
England (6-0-4) won Group H by one point over Ukraine (6-1-3), which routed last-place San Marino 8-0 and advanced to next month’s European playoffs.
Roy Hodgson became the first English manager to secure England’s qualification since Glenn Hoddle in 1997.
Hodgson coached Switzerland at the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.
“I’m English and you can’t get away from the fact it means a little bit more to you when you do it with your own nation,” he said.
His team may train in the Miami area ahead of the tournament in Brazil and is contemplating a pre-tournament exhibition against the United States.
The presence of at least 18,000 Polish fans inside Wembley made for a lively atmosphere, even though the visitors (3-3-4) already were out of contention for the World Cup.
England ahead when Baines whipped in cross from the left. Rooney, having just lost headgear protecting the cut he sustained during training last month, flicked the ball into the net with his head.
“Getting the goal gave us some belief, the confidence to go on,” Rooney said.
England struggled to find the net again after the break, although Poland nearly gifted England a goal 10 minutes into the second half when Grzegorz Krychowiak turned the ball just wide of his own net.
Gerrard was just side of a post at the hour mark, and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saved Rooney’s curling strike saved by Szczesny and palmed away Daniel Sturridge.
It took Gerrard to ease the anxieties by lifting the ball over Szczesny with his outstretched right foot.
“The big lesson is to play better in the second half,” Gerrard said. “Against better teams we might get hurt. We need to keep the ball better. But what we have shown is, when the going gets tough, we don’t concede goals.”
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