Rooney and Gerrard send England to World Cup

Tue Oct 15, 2013 7:28pm EDT
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By Mike Collett

LONDON (Reuters) - Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard scored to send England to the World Cup finals with a 2-0 victory over Poland on Tuesday that gave them top spot in qualifying Group H on a thrilling and nervy night at Wembley.

Rooney's 41st-minute breakthrough was brilliantly created and executed after a patient England build-up gathered pace when Leighton Baines crossed for the Manchester United striker, who nodded the ball down and wide of keeper Wojciech Szczesny.

The match was played on a knife-edge as anything other than a win would have consigned England to a potentially difficult two-legged playoff tie, with group rivals Ukraine cruising to an easy win over San Marino.

But midfielder Gerrard sparked English celebrations when he put the outcome beyond doubt in the 88th minute, cutting inside, bursting into the area and poking the ball past Szczesny.

England, unbeaten in their qualifying campaign, finish top of the section with 22 points, with Ukraine, who go into the playoffs, second on 21.

Manager Roy Hodgson, widely criticized after England's 0-0 draw in Ukraine in September, said he had a feeling of great satisfaction - and joked that Gerrard's late goal had taken "about 10 years" off his life.

"It was a tough group. Poland, Montenegro and Ukraine have shown themselves to be very good opponents," Hodgson told ITV.

"I thought the players played some sensational football in the first half, and in the second, when Poland attacked more, they dug in very well and controlled them.   Continued...

England captain Steven Gerrard (R) celebrates his goal with teammate Wayne Rooney during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Poland at Wembley Stadium in London October 15, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth