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Collins: Roll on Brazil 2014

Sky Sports' chief football reporter Nick Collins gives us his view of Tuesday night's match at Wembley.

Last Updated: 16/10/13 at 20:37 Post Comment

Steven Gerrard: Captain Fantastic earns the praise of Nick Collins

Steven Gerrard: Captain Fantastic earns the praise of Nick Collins

What a night! Captain Steven Gerrard was the hero as England qualified for a fifth consecutive World Cup.

At times - especially in the first half - it seemed more like Warsaw than Wembley. 18,000 Polish fans booed, whistled and jeered whenever an England player was on the ball, the smoke from the red flares lit by some of the visiting supporters hung over the famous stadium, and this looked like being a very difficult evening.

But gradually England came to terms with this uniquely vibrant atmosphere, the home fans found their voice, and what followed was a terrific spectacle.

Wayne Rooney headed England into the lead just before half-time. It should have calmed any lingering nerves and quietened the vociferous Polish support. Instead England found themselves on the back foot, Poland moved up a gear and put their hosts under increasing pressure.

The tension in the crowd was palpable. Just one mistake and the dream of reaching a Brazilian World Cup could be replaced by the nightmare of the play-off lottery. The final 10 minutes were tough to bear...

Until, up stepped Gerrard. A great ball from sub James Milner and the captain was away, wriggling through the Polish defence to somehow slide the ball home. Not the most spectacular of his 21 England goals, but - given the context - one of the most valuable.

Shortly afterwards: the final whistle, a lap of honour from England and the chance to savour the moment. England will be at Brazil 2014!

Roy Hodgson now has eight months to prepare. He has a useful mix of youth and experience plus a track record of getting the maximum out of his players - and he'll need to do that in South America next summer.

So who might force their way into the reckoning when the 23-man squad is announced in May?

Here are two players to watch:

1) Ravel Morrison - two goals this week for the under 21s and a string of eye-catching performances for West Ham this season

2) Saido Berahino - even younger than Morrison, but scoring freely for the under 21s and making an impact at West Bromwich Albion

The old guard of Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole will still have a role, their experience can only help the youngsters.

England will expect to qualify for the last 16. After that, who knows? But one thing is for sure - this team is becoming hard to beat and no-one will fancy England in the knock-out stages. Roll on the summer!

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