England 2 Poland 0

All smiles,  England goalscorers Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney
All smiles, England goalscorers Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney
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Roy Hodgson wore the look of a man who was rather pleased with the job he had just completed. Pleased and relieved.

Fists shaking, a grin as wide as Wembley’s arch. And good luck to him. England had beaten Poland 2-0 at Wembley to secure their place at the World Cup finals in Brazil next summer and all in the English football firmament was well.

True, it was not perhaps a performance to shake Germany and Spain to the core. It was too edgy and fraught for that. But it was one of genuine zest and vigour from a Hodgson team which has now lost just once in 22 matches under his guidance.

Momentum is growing. Shape is improving. Balance, that all so elusive ingredient in football, is beginning to rear its pleasing head. And England are there with eight months to hone their potential before the action begins in Rio.

For so long that eventuality had been in doubt, which is why when the final whistle went on a hugely entertaining qualifier at a euphoric Wembley there was genuine joy on the faces of players who, some people say, care more for their clubs than their country.

Not so. Not if the reactions of captain Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney, who scored the crucial goals, are anything to go by after a night which was tingling with tension.

Poland, after all, had proved tricky opponents for England in the past, not least in 1973 when their goalkeeper, Jan Tomaszewski, famously dubbed a ‘clown’ before the match, turned in a spectacular performance to deny England the win they required to reach the 1974 World Cup finals.

Forty years later Tomaszewski had been in demand to reminisce about that fateful Wembley night, although this time he predicted no such Polish heroics.

Let’s face it, that’s how it should be. Poland are ranked 65 in the world. They are there for a reason. A determined and workmanlike team, but apart from Borussia Dortmund striker Robert Lewandowski they do not possess players of great renown.

But in a seething atmosphere, with 20,000 Poles jeering England’s every move, the nerves were stretched, the character was tested.

It was a trial, too, of England’s patience as they swarmed forward in search of goals.

Hodgson has been accused of caution in the past, but there was no room for any timidity this night and England showed none.

They tore into Poland. It was not always cerebral in a tactical sense but it was raw and full of tempo. A good, old-fashioned English footballing tear-up.

England were equipped for that. They had youth and vigour in Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck. They had Michael Carrick, in for Frank Lampard and lending his passing precision and a bit more protection to the back four.

Crucially, however, England had two wide men in Tottenham winger Andros Townsend, fresh from his scintillating debut against Montenegro, and Leighton Baines, the Everton full-back who gives England an extra dimension.

Ashley Cole has served England well for more than a decade but Baines gives England such a potent weapon as the out-ball going forward.

Time and again England used him to thrust and probe and after Townsend had struck the crossbar and Welbeck had a plethora of shots saved it was Baines who supplied the cross for the vital first goal.

It was swung savagely and precisely on to the head of Rooney, who dispatched it with the aplomb of a striker who has now scored 38 England goals.

The real beauty of this England side, however, is not the maturing of Baines or even the uplifting emergence of Townsend.

It is the fact that there is menace everywhere going forward. True, it could have been different if Robert Lewandowski had not skewed wide a shot almost certainly he would have converted with ease for Borussia Dortmund after England’s central defence had been dissected. Or if Mateusz Klich had cashed in on lax England defending within moments of half-time.

But this was not a night to dwell on England shortcomings.

It was a night to celebrate Hodgson’s accomplishment. Hodgson has rebuilt this England side, moulded youth and experience, identified the menace of Townsend. Given England football a measure of pride.

No mean feat. They will still not go to the World Cup with great expectation. But they will go with hope.