An atmospheric Wembley witnessed Wayne Rooney and captain Steven Gerrard send England to Brazil
• Gallery: all the best pictures from Wembley
• Clockwatch: how the other matches panned out
• All tonight's goals and and scorers
A final ecumenical thought from Daniel Farthing. "Enjoyed the religious wordplay, but I wanna see your boys do similar with the Polish names. Anyone up for the challenge?" Oops, that's us just out of time. Nighty night, everyone!
Congratulations to Wayne Rooney, congratulations to Steven Gerrard, but most of all congratulations to Roy Hodgson, who has steered his England side to next summer's World Cup unbeaten. The lid comes off Wembley as the entire country celebrates. Well, nearly everyone. "Thank goodness for Gary Lineker," opines Neale Redington. "I must say, his team selection for the last two games was a masterpiece."
90 min +1: Welbeck and Rooney combine down the left to win a corner. Rooney's still got 60 seconds to get himself sent off.
90 min: There will be two added minutes of this. England will fully deserve this win.
It's not pretty, but it's guaranteed English participation at the World Cup finals next summer! Gerrard bustles down the inside right channel. He's never really in control of the ball, but as he enters the box he takes a touch inside and then lifts a cheeky effort into the top right past the advancing Szczesny. He wheels off with a huge smile playing across his lips! On the touchline, Roy Hodgson does that celebration where he looks like he's about to start a fistfight in a pub car park.
87 min: Baines forces a throw down the left. It's a measure of Poland's dominance during the last five or ten minutes that it's met with a loud, rasping cheer by the Wembley crowd and a tootle of Big Man Save The Queen by the Effing Wembley Big Band.
86 min: Townsend, who has again performed rather well, is replaced by Milner. England are just making sure of the win now. They're nearly in Brazil.
84 min: Poland are pushing England back. Lewandowski has the ball at his feet 30 yards out, but can't decide whether to shoot or feed a team-mate, and the chance is gone. "Hang on! Did Phil Sawyer really miss out Hart the Herald Angels Sing?" splutters Rob Marriott. "I'm very disappointed in him." Where's that 'dislike' button when you need it? There's a reason we don't have one of those either.
83 min: Rooney attempts to Maradona his way down the middle, but can't break through a four-strong gaggle of red shirts on the edge of the D. He had no support there whatsoever, England sitting back, taking no risks whatsoever. Can you blame them?
82 min: Wembley's gone a bit quiet, with Poland enjoying increasing possession. Time for another England change, as Sturridge goes off, Wilshere coming on in his stead.
80 min: Peszko is again tearing upfield along the left wing. Rooney brings him down. Yellow. Still time for that pre-tournament red card! "Deck the Big Man in a Burberry cap and you have an England fan asking if the opposition think they are hard enough," suggests Ian Copestake. A living hell, right there.
78 min: Sturridge nudges the ball infield from the left and hammers a shot straight at Szczesny. The keeper turns it over the bar. Brilliant effort. Not so much brilliance from the corner. "Disappointed with Millings' heavenly eleven," moans Phil Sawyer. "Not enough made from the current England team. He could have had:
77 min: Suddenly the referee's report is getting longer as Celeban is booked for a dragback on Sturridge.
76 min: Some refereeing admin. Zielinski comes on for Mierzejewski. And Lampard is booked for a cynical tug on Peszko as the winger threatens to break down the left.
75 min: Here, this is better from Townsend, who gets some rare second-half space and whips a low cross to the far post. Celeban is forced to concede a corner on the left. It's wasted.
74 min: Baines wheechs a free kick into the Poland area from the right, but it's easily cleared by Wojtkowiak. England are soon coming back at Poland through Townsend down the same wing, but he's not been given so much room since the break, and another move peters out.
73 min: England have been hogging the ball for five minutes now, taking the sting out of the game, if not of the crowd. "In the absence of a 'like' function on the MBM, could you 'like' Mac Millings' tremendous effort for me?" asks Ian Copestake, doing the kind, caring, Christian thing. By the way, we don't bother with a 'like' function because... well, actually, you already know why.
71 min: England make their first change of the evening. Carrick is replaced by Lampard, who comes on to great cheers and whistles, the top note is dependant on what you really want to hear.
68 min: A couple of low crosses into the England box from Wojtkowiak down the left. England deal with both, but fail to draw the sting from the atmosphere in the stands. The place is still bouncing. Tension is expected to set in soon enough, mind, especially if England can't get a second.
67 min: Rooney, the hero as things stand so far, nearly enhances his status by cutting in from the left and shaping a curler towards the top right. A brilliant effort, but one met well by Szczesny. "The head is bending slightly forward in the Big Man's pose, suggesting humility," begins Robin Hazelhurst. "Or possibly mock-humility, I'd say he's just scored a screamer from thirty yards and is standing in front of his home fans lapping it up. I wonder if anyone will manage to copy the pose for a goal celebration in Brazil next year." And I wonder who'll be first to try to copyright it.
65 min: Sobota is replaced by Peszko. A break in play, which allows Mac Millings to give us his all-time Heavenly XI:
63 min: Sobata chases a ball down the left and pulls it back at the very last minute from the byline. In the centre is Lewandowski, who is now officially having a shocker. He overruns the ball and what would admittedly only be a half-chance is gone. The Dortmund striker is trying way too hard to replicate his club form on the international stage. Does he have any English ancestry?
60 min: Joe Hart's had his critics of late, but what a save he's just made here. Lewandowski is sent clear down the inside right by a long ball. Reep Almighty! He's one on one with Hart, and attempts to poke the ball to the left of the keeper and into the unguarded left-hand side of the net. But the keeper flaps his arms and the underside of his right wing takes the sting out of the ball. Cahill is therefore given the chance to hoick clear. He's paid back his manager's faith there.
59 min: Rooney jinks in from the left and diddles around in front of the Polish D. He can't get a shot away, and Townsend's eventual effort is weak and straight at the keeper. England are soon teeing themselves up for another thrash at goal, but Gerrard's bobbler from 20 yards flies wide left. "Clearly the Big Man's stance is the stance of a supporter in good voice chanting ‘how wide, do you want the goal?’," writes Adrian Gentry. "A reaction prompted by
seeing too many fail the basic Christian standard of love and forgiveness watching too many League Two matches."
56 min: England are an inch or so from going two up. Rooney fires a low ball into the centre from the right. Krychowiak is aware of white shirts around him, so slides in to poke past the advancing Szczesny and out for a corner. He manages it, but so nearly puts through his own goal. Nothing comes from the set piece. At either end.
55 min: Mierzejewski chips a lovely ball down the inside left for Wojtkowiak, but the full back can't quite get on the end of it. Another phase, and Lewandowski is penalised for clattering into Cahill under the high ball. Poland are having trouble making things stick up front at the moment.
53 min: Townsend embarks on a dribble down the right, but opts to dive past Wojtkowiak instead of running past him. Daft decision, because he had the beating of his defender. Doubly so, because Klich romps up the inside left and feeds Robert Lewandowski to his right. The struggling striker attempts to thread a ball through the middle for Blaszcykowski, cutting in from the right wing, but it's no good whatsoever.
51 min: Rooney swings a deep cross into the area from the right. Welbeck sticks a leg out and though he can't get a decent shot away, wins a corner. The ball from the left is sent whistling onto Cahill's head, and the defender diverts it towards the top right. Szczesny dives at full length to claw it away. England have finally turned up for the second half, and impressively so.
50 min: Now it's England's turn to win a corner down the left, after more determined playmaking by Rooney. Gerrard's set piece is blootered straight through the area and out on the other side. Meanwhile here's Hugo Tremblay'sCorcovado dossier. "That's not a goalkeeper's stance. The Big Man's arms raised to the sky is the model for all touchline-prowling, blame-obfuscating managers dejected at their team's abysmal performance. Since these managers raise their arms to take the Big Man as witness, I wonder who the Big Man is himself deferring to for our failings?" Charles Reep?
48 min: Another corner for Poland, down the left again. Sobota has a batter from 20 yards, but it's easily blocked. England attempt to do a Poland, flooding upfield after defending a set piece, but Rooney can't find Sturridge down the right with a raking diagonal pass and the chance to create is gone.
47 min: Corner begats corner, and Hart flaps under the second one. The ball breaks to this new sensation Klich, who looks for the top left corner from 12 yards out, just to the right of goal. It's not a bad effort, but not a great one. Still, England need to get their gamefaces on, and quick. "Fornalik, the Polish team coach, is the first Pole who went to England to lose his job, that's how Poles joke on Twitter," writes Wojtek Rogacin, embracing the gallows humour.
Poland get the ball rolling for the second period having made a change: Mariusz Lewandowski has made way for Klich. And within 20 seconds, the ball's at his feet, 12 yards out! Cahill, the only England player out so far, slides across to block out for a corner on the left. What an absurd start to the half, and what a chance!
That was too much football to cope with. It never stopped! Time to take our minds off the game for ten minutes, then. Comic thriller, anyone? Here's The Baron, titular hero of a paean to the majestically unhinged. He is, as he insists, EVIL. Not quite as scary as Roy Keane on the ITV panel, mind you, but then who or what is.
And that's that for the half. To great cheers, Rooney struts off for his half-time
fag cup of tea in the grand manner. He's earned the right, for that was a fine finish. And England deserve their lead, the desperate show they're making of themselves at corners notwithstanding. They've been very impressive. It's been an attacking tour de force. "When England do attacking and passing with pace (or football as it is known) they look great," opines Ian Copestake. "Is Hodgson being controlled by someone in the crowd?"
45 min: Sobota puts the ball in the England net, an assured finish into the left-hand corner after being set clear down the inside right. But he was a yard offside, no question.
43 min: England are on top of the group, and on top of this match too. Townsend wins another corner down the right. For once Poland aren't allowed to carve out a chance from it. Instead, another corner's won on the other side, the ball breaking to Sturridge, six yards out. But it's bouncing awkwardly, and his header flies off target as his body twists in a very strange manner.
England are on their way to Brazil as things stand! Wembley drowns out the Polish whistling, and in such a simple way, too! Baines finds space down the left and curls a cross onto the head of Rooney, eight yards out. Rooney isn't missing from there, and plants a powerful header into the right-hand side of the goal!
40 min: A lot of England possession. They're not really going anywhere at the moment. And so a lot of whistling too. "The big man on the mountain is your classic shot stopper, fantastic distribution and great marshaller of his defence. But he's not keen on crosses, for some reason." Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Gareth Hughes. Try the Cachaça.
37 min: England corner down the left begat England corner down the left. Yet again Poland tear clear, Robert Lewandowski heading out to Blaszcykowski down the right, but the move peters out. England were facing a two-on-two break there. England have to sort this out, because there's trouble at mill every time Poland break forward. "Is it allowed under the laws of the game to decline a corner and give a goal kick?" wonders the progressive thinker Duncan Smith.
35 min: Gerrard, just in front of the D with his back at goal, slides the ball to Welbeck down the inside left, but the striker again fluffs his lines. His shot is parried by Szczesny and cleared. Then Rooney has a dig, looking for the bottom left, but again the keeper is behind it. England are turning up the heat here, it's surely a matter of time.
34 min: Baines is upended again down the left - he's looking feisty every time he gets the ball - but Gerrard's set piece delivery lets him down. Jedrzejczyk, the first man, clears. England come back at Poland through Sturridge, who drops a shoulder to come in from the right and shimmy past Wojtkowiak, but his low shot flies wide right.
31 min: Gerrard has the ball at his feet in the area, but like Sturridge before him can't get it out. No matter, the ball's swept over to Baines, who wins another corner. From which England should score, the ball breaking free of a melee to Welbeck, six yards out. He must put it away, but lashes a panicked effort wide right of the target. Dear me. They'll have that on loop later tonight should England's hopes go south.
29 min: A free kick to Poland, out wide on the right, is dealt with in the first instance by England, though that'll be a corner to the away/home side down the right. The ball's swung in, and Robert Lewandowski, desperate to get an international goal against one of the big teams, gets his eyebrows to the thing eight yards out, but can't get any purchase on his effort. "Whatever his allegiances, the Big Man clearly created Polish by tipping the Scrabble board," writes Matt Dony. "Are you hoping Glik has a lot of involvement tonight?" There's a reason I'm always 14 minutes behind.
27 min: Oh this is a brilliant game of football. Townsend takes a shot from 25 yards, just to the left, and hammers a curler onto the crossbar! The ball breaks wide left to Sturridge, who has a batter from a tight angle, but Szczesny Tomaszewskis it away. He's really taken to international football, this lad.
25 min: And what a chance this was for England! Townsend, who is playing very well indeed, makes more ground down the right and whips a low pass in to Sturridge. But the striker, 12 yards out just to the right of centre, can't get the ball out from under his feet, and spins round through 360 degrees before taking a dizzy fresh-air shot. Poland make a meal of clearing, and there's a corner that comes to nowt. But there's another amazing chance spurned!
23 min: Townsend wins a corner with some characteristically direct play down the right. From the corner, it's nearly disaster for England, as Poland immediately stream upfield through Sobota down the right. He fires a low pass across to the left towards Robert Lewandowski, Blaszcykowski dummying so the striker is released. He's one on one with Hart, but looking for the bottom right, guides the ball past the post. What a chance that was!
21 min: Baines is taken down, 30 yards out on the left. Gerrard takes one of his Scotland-bothering set pieces, a lovely inswinging whip to the far post. Smalling beats the offside charge in the middle, and any touch would have turned the ball into the net from six yards. But he fails to connect. England so close, though.
19 min: Smalling hacks down Wojtkowiak near the left-hand corner flag. A free kick to Poland in a very dangerous position. It's headed clear easily enough, though, and though Krychowiak has the opportunity to send Sobota into space down the right, he overcooks the pass and the ball flies out for a goal kick. "Logging on now does feel like walking in mid-conversation between the Vicar of Dibley and Garth Crooks," begins Julian Ford, "but if I can deal purely in facts; He's got to be looking to bend his knees if He's got any chance with said penalty save."
18 min: Ukraine are already a couple of goals up in San Marino. No great shocks there. "The Big Man does indeed have his arms outstretched in classic goalkeeper-facing-a-penalty mode," agrees Mick Mitchell. "But am I alone in seeing a particularly striking resemblance to Joe Hart’s ridiculous posing in the mistaken assumption that such clowning would put the Italians off taking their penalties?"
17 min: ... nothing happens. Baines pulls a low ball behind the mass of men in the six-yard box, but Sturridge can't get to the training-ground routine before the ball's blootered away upfield.
16 min: Corner to England down the left. This game's being played on a see-saw. Nothing comes of the set piece, but England soon come back at Poland and Baines is upended near the corner flag down the left. Free kick. From which ...
14 min: Blaszcykowski burns up half of the right wing, a fantastic run. He cuts inside. The ball's shuttled out to Sobota, in space just inside the area. Cahill closes him down, just about, Sobota sending a dangerous-looking shot into the side netting. Not sure Hart would have had that covered if it was on target. "I'm really confused now," writes Phil Sawyer. "So the fella on the hill is a goalkeeper with a messiah complex? Is he David Icke?" No, and neither did Rede Globo ever show the snooker.
12 min: A fast start here. Robert Lewandowski twists and turns down the inside left and gets a shot away. It's deflected out on a high loop for a corner, but the flag goes up for offside. This won't stay 0-0 for long, I'll be bound.
10 min: Friday's hero Townsend has a lash from just outside the D. It's low and fizzing, and heading for the bottom left, but Szczesny is behind it. He can only parry forward, mind, and he's lucky Welbeck is forced to make a preposterous contortion, heading a very low effort wide left.
9 min: A bit of space for Baines down the left, released by Rooney. He whips a low ball into the box for Welbeck at the near post, but Jedrzejczyk prods out for a corner. Szczesny plucks the set piece from the sky and sets Poland off upfield. Robert Lewandowski has a dig from distance, cutting in from the right, but Hart is behind it all the way. Nerve Settlers for both keepers there.
7 min: Gerrard dawdles in the centre circle, allowing Robert Lewandowski to sprint off with the ball. He makes good ground down the middle of the park, drifting a little to the right, but his attempt to slide in his Dortmund team-mate Blaszcykowski is all out of whack.
4 min: Some pretty play by Poland down the left, Blaszcykowski nearly getting on the end of a Mariusz Lewandowski pass. When England take up possession, Rooney probing down the right, the whistling is off the scale! This is almost like an away game for England at the moment, because the Polish fans really have got their act together!
3 min: Sturridge presses Wojtkowiak down the right, but the full back keeps calm and plays the ball back up the wing, off Townsend, and out for a throw. The noise at Wembley is blistering. If only modern football was like this all the time.
2 min: England knock it around the back awhile, before hoicking it out of play down the left. Robert Lewandowski rolls a pass up the right wing for Blaszcykowski, but Cahill ushers the ball out of play.
There's a stunning atmosphere in Wembley Stadium. It's like a cup final, only with fewer corporate hangers-on. England get the ball rolling, and the roar can be heard all the way along the North Circular. "Phil Sawyer's spiritually reflective missive raises many perplexing points about the true identity of the Big Man on the hill with the arms outstretched in classic goalkeeper-facing-a-penalty mode," concludes Justin Kavanagh, just in time. "To which I can only respond that these would be ecumenical matters, and so thank God we are both atheists who don't have to concern ourselves with such things."
England in their famous white, Poland their gorgeous red. The anthems are blared out - and there's a fair bit of comedic Disrespectful Whistling to accompany Big Man Save The Queen. Did the FA sell 18,000 tickets to Scottish and Irish fans as well?
"According to Dante," begins Owen Linderholm, "the punishment in Hell for atheists is Limbo - basically remaining a lost soul forever - this time with the knowledge that you are excluded from Heaven. So no burning for the atheists." Great news there for half of the Guardian's readership.
Meanwhile Wayne Massey adds: "The Big Man On Top Of The Hill Outside Rio said that he and the other Big Man (his Dad) were one. So I presume that means whichever team one of them supports the other is thrown in as well? There is the third fella (The Holy Ghost), not sure who he supports. Probably Spain." Difficult to shake a mental image of Big Man and JHC sitting across the breakfast table, bedecked in club colours ahead of the derby, throwing darts at each other over their cornflakes.
"Could I make a pedantic ecumenical point?" asks Phil Sawyer. Be my guest, Phil, it's what they're all flocking to the website for, the readers are positively gagging for it. "The fella on the mountain is not the Big Man but, in fact, the Big Man's Son. Youngsters generally can be relied upon to rebel against their parents' tastes, therefore if the Big Man is supporting the Poles tonight thanks to the influence of his former representative on Earth, I think we can safely say that the Big Man's Son will be cheering on England. Mind you, I'm an atheist as well so am ill informed on religious matters. And will burn in a fiery sea of hell come judgement day."
Well, if we're balancing the Pedantry Bowler Hat (a strictly non-denominational head covering, before anyone starts) atop our noggins at a jaunty angle, the caption states only that the dude on the Corcovado is a big man, but makes no claims for him being the Big Man. But we'll let it slide, it's what JHC and his pop, Big Man, would have wanted, and your wider points are sound. Good news for England, then, which may be why Simon McMahon would also like to make the following clarification: "Unlike the man in your picture, Mr Roy is not the messiah. He's just a very lucky boy."
In the beginning the Guardian created a minute-by-minute report. And darkness was all over the MBM report. And the Guardian said "let there be light". And the Guardian toyed with the idea of a picture of England captain Steven Gerrard, frowning, or Wayne Rooney's headband, but opted for a shot of the Rio skyline instead. And lo there was light! And the Guardian did pen a caption to the picture, touching on themes ecumenical. And lo did the caption raise ire in Justin Kavanagh!
"I'm not so sure your photo caption is accurate in saying that the big man on the Corcovado is neutral. Some might say that He could be papally swayed by the man a lot of the world's population call his 'representative on Earth'. That would mean he would be favouring Argentina next summer. And He has been known to lend that country a big Hand in previous World Cups, as all English fans will recall. More worryingly for the current English team, if the pope before last (a Polish goalkeeper, no less) has His ear, He will surely be favouring the Poles tonight. And we all know what happened the last time a Polish goalkeeper played under the spell of divine intervention at Wembley. I'm an atheist myself, so I think England will be fine."
And the MBM report was formless and empty.
England: Hart, Smalling, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines, Carrick, Gerrard, Townsend, Rooney, Welbeck, Sturridge.
Subs: Ruddy, Jones, Gibbs, Wilshere, Lampard, Milner, Barkley, Defoe, Sterling, Lambert, Forster.
Poland: Szczesny, Wojtkowiak, Jedrzejczyk, Glik, Celeban, Blaszczykowski, Mierzejewski, Krychowiak, Sobota, Mariusz Lewandowski, Robert Lewandowski.
Subs: Boruc, Wasilewski, Jodlowiec, Polanski, Zielinski, Klich, Wawrzyniak, Peszko, Sobiech, Rzezniczak, Fabianski.
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
The Brazilians have famously still got a cob on about Alcides Ghiggia, though they're not the only ones desperate to shoo away the ghosts of IV Campeonato Mundial De Futebol. England have issues with the 1950 World Cup too, and would rather like the chance next summer to add a redemptive footnote to the most humbling defeat in their history, the 1-0 loss to the USA in Belo Horizonte, and their subsequent failure to get through a group they were so sure of breezing that they didn't call up Stanley Matthews until it was far too late. The only good news that year for Walter Winterbottom's men? One of the tournament sponsors was the Bayer drug Cafiaspirina®, a joyous concoction of aspirin and caffeine, so at least they could stock up on cheap pills to numb the pain on the long, whacked-up journey back home.
Back to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup is the very thing to right a few wrongs, then. And it's a prize that's in England's grasp. All they need to do is beat Poland, a team they've played 18 times in the past, winning ten, drawing seven, and losing just the once. There's a ghost lurking here too, of course, in the shape of Jan Tomaszewski, star turn of the travelling circus troupe that pitched up at Wembley in 1973 and denied England a place at the 1974 finals, before going on to prove themselves one of the best teams on the planet. But if England are going to obsess about history - which in fairness they probably aren't - surely it's better to concentrate on the other times they've met Poland in World Cup competition. For the record is good: a 3-0 win that happened in Monterrey a long time ago; a spawny 0-0 draw at Stadion Śląski that sent England to the 1990 finals; a 3-0 win at Wembley in the doomed attempt to get to the 1994 event; home and away wins en route to the 1998 and 2006 finals; and a Joe Hart error in Warsaw that gave Poland a share of the spoils 12 months ago. I should have stopped while the going was good, now I come to think about it.
No matter; England should be going into this match on the front foot, crippling tension and 18,000-strong away support notwithstanding. Roy Hodgson has had his critics, but the man opted to seize the day last Friday against mediocre Montenegro, handing Andros Townsend his debut to devastating effect. More positivity should, if the form book's any guide, see his men through to Brazil. England are undefeated in Group H and good at this - their last defeat in a World Cup qualifier with the group still live came against Northern Ireland in 2005 - while Poland have been a shower, scoring only eight times in their campaign, if you factor out the ten goals scored San Marino, which we surely should. Still, England will be wary of the attacking threat posed by Borussia Dortmund duo Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszcykowski, and ... well, no other top-drawer acts, if we're being super-critical. Then again, the pressure's off Poland, who are out whatever happens tonight and will want to give their fans a little something back, as well as posting a marker for the Euro 2016 qualifiers. England have this on paper, but with the anxiety dial up to 11 and the Poles freewheeling, anything is possible. File down some nice smooth edges on your fingernails; you'll be less likely to bite them that way.
Kick off: 8pm in north-west London, 9pm in Poland.