KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY: Roy Hodgson has made a speciality of transatlantic World Cups. In 1994 he took Switzerland to the finals in the United States and now, his abilities acknowledged at last in his own land, will lead England to Brazil next June.
England secured their 14th finals appearance in the 150th anniversary year of the Football Association, an appropriate present from the original governing body to itself and only a week after chairman Greg Dyke launched his commission to devise better days ahead by 2022.
Hodgson is not looking that far ahead. Indeed, after the 2-0 victory over Poland which booked the ticket he was reluctant even to talk much about the challenge of approaching Brazil while he savoured not only the delight of qualifying but the relief. He observed: “I died a thousand deaths every time they [Poland] crossed the halfway line.”
Reviewing the victories over Montenegro last Friday and then Poland, Hodgson said: “These were high pressure matches but the performances have been good. We had to dig in for a little spell in the second half but some of our form in the first half was quite spectacular and 1-0 at halftime was scant reward.
“I thought that, for a team with nothing to play for, the Poles showed a lot of heart and fight. Now we’re looking forward to going to Brazil which the whole nation wants; the support throughout the whole campaign has been very good.
“It means an awful lot to me. I was lucky enough to go to a World Cup once with Switzerland who didn’t have the wealth of players that we have here. I thought that America experience was a very good one and I’m sure the Brazilian experience will be a good one too.
“To take England to the World Cup finals will top the lot [in my career] though I don’t want to denigrate other achievements. For example, for Switzerland in 1994 to go the World Cup finals for the first time in 30 years and then to the Euros in 1994 was a pretty good achievement.
“But I’m English and you can’t get away from the fact that it means a little bit more to do it with your own national team.”
Hodgson acknowledged the inevitable weight of pressure around the corner but took heart from his team’s blend of youth and experience.
Finding the right blend next summer is another challenge entirely.
Hodgson said: “To pick 23 players will be a tough job because there will be a lot more than 23 who merit selection on the basis on what they’ve done so I’m not looking forward to that situation but I’m going to enjoy the fact that we’ve qualified unbeaten. We feel we can be proud of that achievement and are looking forward to getting our reward which will be playing in Brazil.
“It was very fitting that Steven Gerrard scored the second goal because if anyone played a captain’s innings through the 10 qualifying games it’s been him.”
By then Poland coach Waldemar Fornalik will be looking for a new job. His imminent departure from the national team management appears certain.
Fornalik said: “I must congratulate England on qualifying for the finals. They have played better and better with each match and will always be among the title contenders.
“We tried to do our best, to play as a unit and show that we were still strong as a team. We have proved this autumn that we can play really good football. It is just a matter of scoring more goals.
“This match was like our other qualifiers. We created chances but didn’t take them and conceded some sloppy goals.”
He pinpointed the early home defeat by Ukraine as crucial: “After that we were always chasing results.”