England: Great Captain, Lucky Manager, Can England Challenge?

A tremendous performance, squad that looks deeper all the time and emerging talent on the fringes. It will probably end in tears, but you never know...
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A tremendous performance, squad that looks deeper all the time and emerging talent on the fringes. It will probably end in tears, but you never know...

Let’s say it now to get it out of the way: England have qualified for the World Cup in Brazil 2014.

No uncertain play-offs, no Croatia 2007 and the Wally with the Brolly, no Jan Tomaszewski the Clown from 1973.

Savour it before the hype gets too much, before we get let down by bad luck, bad refereeing, food poisoning, bad substitutions, bad misses and disallowed goals.

Or before we are simply outclassed by a better team – all that awaits us can wait. For last night was all about qualification.

Roy Hodgson is an honourable man, someone who probably wouldn’t have lost 30k to a bloke pretending to be a jockey. But he was also someone who didn’t lose in the Ukraine. Whatever you think of Harry Redknapp, Roy set up his team to get a vital point in Kiev last month which allowed our fate to be in our hands.

I was at Wembley last night. There was a raucous expectant atmosphere. Everywhere you looked before the game were beery, loud Poles bedecked in red and white. The support they gave their side in the ground was nothing short of exceptional.

It was said that they sold 18,000 tickets. In my experience of Wembley, judging by how many Polish fans were dotted around the home end I would estimate that they had brought the largest away attendance yet at the new Wembley, surpassing the 21,000 that Ghana took and the 20,000 from Scotland in August. And when they did the ‘Poznan’ in the second half you feared the Upper Tier would collapse from their bouncing.

Even if the interloper who ran onto the pitch from the away end in the second half was so badly dressed in a vest and shell suit bottoms he did not just invite lazy stereotyping but invited it in for a Tyskie and a tray of pirogue.

Yet the England fans rallied too, giving the game the mood of a crucial cup tie.

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Which in a way it was.

People accuse Hodgson of setting his teams up to be workmanlike, solid, negative even - but what many fail to realise is that when the circumstances allow he gives his teams as much freedom to attack as a fabled Redknapp team (QPR may be doing well in the Championship but count how many 1-0 wins they’ve had this season).

Townsend and Welbeck looked dangerous from the flanks with Rooney bullishly pushing on through the middle as England attacked incessantly. Many a time only a despairing last-ditch Polish block, tackle or commendable Chesney save prevented a goal. It was instructive to note that every time the ball went wide – even with the English full backs Baines and Smalling pushing on - the red and whites doubled up on whoever was attempting to hit the centre.

The plan worked up until the 41th minute when a cross from the composed Baines finally evaded the men detailed to prevent the ball being delivered with such pace and accuracy, as it finally made it into a crowded Polish area. Welbeck just failed to make contact, but with Rooney behind him as insurance the ex-Everton forward powered the ball behind Chesney’s dive for his 38th England goal and his 28th competitive goal for the Three Lions - which is some feat.

With Jagelka and Cahill developing a better understanding, even if the Everton man does not look as if he can build from the back, with unsung Gerrard powerfully revelling in his centre midfield position (and how the man’s persistence and determination fully earned his late goal), with Carrick looking far more composed and dare I say it far more useful than Cleverley – with Jack Wilshere (on as a late sub) looking to find his form again, along with Theo Walcott and Oxlaide-Chamberlain to come back, not to mention savouring young Ross Barkley’s development and the rise of Ravel Morrison - you could argue that England have the makings of a team that could progress in the Brazilian winter.

And that’s without mentioning the promise of Sturridge and the apparent resurgence of Rooney. Or the effervescence of the raw Townsend - even if the notion that he continually favours cutting inside to find his stronger left foot will not be a surprise to teams by next summer.

Of course it will end in tears, it always does - but the fact is under Hodgson, who took over when the team was facing upheaval after it was decided Redknapp was not an FA man - has ensured English qualification for the World Cup in Brazil.

It could have all been so different had Lewandowski and his quick feet and train of thought not pulled his shot across Hart’s goal after an excellent dummy from Jakub Blaszczykowski with the score at 0-0.

ITV play Bittersweet Symphony as their introductory music for England games – but perhaps they would be better off having another Verve effort, Lucky Man, instead – as Hodgson appears to be fortunate as well as organised.

But that’s for another day - along with the cost of travel, the scarcity of tickets, the security concerns, lack of reasonably priced accommodation, the worry of a humiliating second round exit, the execrable Sheffield Wednesday band getting free tickets and travel, the populist but crap World Cup song in conjunction with an FA rubber stamped ‘musician’ who will claim he/she has always been a ‘big England fan’ , the idea that every second car will have a crap St Georges Cross flag flying ragged from it, the supermarkets full of tat, the endless discussions of the squad – and anything else that comes with the frenzy – that’s all for the future…

For now, just savour the fact England are going to South America next summer – with the best defensive record in the qualifiers and the second best goals scored tally.

So no rallying call or triumphalism is needed or required – just a vindication of a decent man who has got his country to the World Cup.

As my good friend and huge England fan Steve McCairns said to me after the game last night: “it’s never easy following the team and they do try your nerves from time to time, but the Montenegro game and now the Poland result and performance give us a little hope. Having been to Brazil for the friendly in May and seeing how passionate the country is for football, here’s to as many fans as possible enjoying what will be a world cup of a lifetime.”

Well said that fan.

And well done Mr Roy Hodgson.

Harry Redknapp was quoted last week as saying: “The FA couldn’t choose a good manager if their lives depended on it.”

Really Harry? Is that right?

Order and Progress are the words written on the iconic Brazilian flag.

It could have been penned for Roy Hodgson’s England.

Follow Layth on twitter @laythy29