LONDON // Manager Roy Hodgson said he endured a nervous and emotional night as England booked their place in next year’s World Cup by beating Poland 2-0 at Wembley in a pulsating final Group H qualifier on Tuesday.
Hodgson steered his team through an unbeaten campaign that ended with them taking top spot courtesy of six wins and four draws following Tuesday’s triumph, sealed by goals from Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.
Anything other than a win would have left the 1966 world champions in second place but England finished on 22 points, one ahead of Ukraine who crushed San Marino 8-0.
“You can imagine quite a few emotions are churning around inside me,” Hodgson said. “I died a thousand deaths every time they crossed the halfway line.
“I will put on hold my thoughts about what we are going to do in Brazil until a later date,” he added, referring to the 2014 finals. “I am, though, naturally delighted we completed the job.”
Rooney grabbed his 38th goal in his 86th international with a 41st-minute header scored without his protective headband on.
Skipper Gerrard then ended all fears of a Poland fightback in the 88th minute with his 21st goal on his 107th appearance.
“It was very fitting Steven Gerrard scored the goal that put the game beyond doubt,” said Hodgson, “because if anyone has played a captain’s innings throughout these 10 games it has been him.”
The Liverpool midfielder, who said before the game he was still haunted by England’s 3-2 home defeat by Croatia in November 2007 that put them out of Euro 2008, was also a happy man.
“We are delighted with the result but they made us work very hard for it,” said Gerrard. “We were determined not to suffer what we went through after we failed to reach the Euros in 2008.
“Now we can prepare for the World Cup and that is a great feeling. I know Wayne and me scored the goals tonight but it was a collective effort and many players have played their part over the last two seasons to get us here.”
Rooney is now 11 goals shy of Bobby Charlton’s all-time England record tally of 49.
In other European qualifying action, Bosnia-Herzegovina reached their first ever major finals as a 1-0 win over Lithuania saw them confirm their place at next year’s World Cup.
They will be joined by Russia, who had not reached a World Cup finals since 2002 and who sealed their place at Brazil 2014 with a 1-1 away draw in Azerbaijan.
Bosnia – who had lost twice to Portugal in play-offs for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 – progress at the expense of Greece, who go into the play-offs, while Portugal finish runners-up to Russia and will also contest a winner takes all play-off.
Vedad Ibisevic was Bosnia’s hero as he scored what was the most important of his 20 international goals as the 29-year-old Stuttgart striker struck in the 68th minute.
His sidefooted effort came just two minutes after he had seen another shot brilliantly saved by Giederius Arlauskas, who had denied Bosnia throughout the match in a stunning performance.
Arlausakas’s performance could be put into the context that only the Germans and the Dutch have scored more goals in the qualifying games than the Bosnians.
Greece by contrast have failed to sparkle in front of goal and were only able to beat Liechtenstein 2-0 in Athens.
Dimitris Salpingidis scored in the seventh minute but the goal shy Greeks – who had only scored 10 goals going into the match from their previous nine qualifiers – failed to add to that until veteran Giorgos Karagounis, appearing in his 130th game for the national side, scored with a free kick nine minutes from time.
Portugal, who were missing the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, got on top early at home to Luxembourg as Silvestre Varela and Nani scored in the first-half – but only after Luxembourg had had a player sent off.
However, they were only able to add one more in the second-half as veteran striker Helder Postiga scored 11 minutes from time.
Portugal and Greece will learn who their opponents are in the play-offs in the draw next Monday.
Mario Balotelli came off the bench to save Italy’s blushes in a 2-2 draw with Armenia which threatened to end in the hosts’ first defeat of a successful World Cup qualifying campaign, and Croatia coach Igor Stimac announced he had offered to resign following the 2-0 defeat to Scotland in their final 2014 World Cup qualifying match.
A stunning strike from Franck Ribery, a Joona Toivio own goal and a late volley from Karim Benzema ensured France finished their World Cup qualifying Group I campaign with a 3-0 win at the Stade de France, as well.