Hodgson ready for his career highlight as England book their place in Brazil (From The Northern Echo)
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Hodgson ready for his career highlight as England book their place in Brazil
A DELIGHTED Roy Hodgson last night described the prospect of leading England into next summer's World Cup finals as “the highlight” of his 37-year managerial career.
On a night when only a victory would suffice, goals from Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard ensured England finished on top of Group H and booked their ticket for Brazil.
Faced with a Poland side roared on by 20,000 visiting fans, Hodgson's side maintained the standards they had set in Friday's win over Montenegro as they claimed the win that enabled them to finish one point clear of Ukraine.
Hodgson has managed at the World Cup before, leading Switzerland to the 1994 finals in the United States. But as someone who regards the job of leading his country as his dream position, the 66-year-old cannot wait to experience the thrill of managing England in a tournament in Brazil.
“I think it will be the highlight of my career,” said Hodgson. “I don't want to denigrate my previous achievements, and don't want people in Switzerland to think I wasn't proud of my achievements with that team.
“To get to a World Cup finals was a pretty good achievement by those boys, but I'm English and you can't get away from the fact that as an Englishman, it means a bit more when you can do it with your own nation.
“It means an awful lot. I thought the experience of the American World Cup was a good one, but the Brazilian experience will be great.”
Last night's qualification was a vindication of the Football Association's decision to appoint Hodgson despite a concerted campaign from various quarters to champion the candidacy of Harry Redknapp.
The erudite Hodgson always felt like a more astute choice of England manager, and while Redknapp might have claimed otherwise in his recently-released autobiography, the FA's faith in the former Fulham, Liverpool and West Brom boss has proved justified.
While it would be wrong to get too carried away given England's struggles in the early stages of the qualifying campaign, the last two matches have hinted at the potential within a squad that has developed significantly since the end of Euro 2012.
Hodgson was keen to avoid the triumphalism that tends to accompany England's preparations for a major tournament, but conceded that automatic qualification means his side at least remain contenders for next year's finals.
“You've always got a chance,” he said. “If you want to win the lottery then you've got to buy a lottery ticket. We've got our ticket, and that by itself is useful.”
England were the better side throughout last night's game, and while Robert Lewandowski spurned a decent opportunity to give Poland the lead, the hosts claimed a deserved advantage when Rooney glanced home Leighton Baines' cross.
Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Andros Townsend all went close to extending England's lead, but with Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny in inspired form, the cushion of a second goal did not arrive until two minutes from time.
Gerrard dribbled his way through the heart of the Polish defence, and his chipped shot found the back of the net to confirm England's position at the top of Group H at the end of a qualifying campaign that has seen them claim six wins and four draws from their ten matches.
“I'm delighted for the players,” said Hodgson. “Although these matches were high pressure, their performances in both games was very good. We had to dig in for a little spell in the second half, which we did very well.
“I've got to say that some of the football in the first half was quite spectacular, and 1-0 at half-time was scant reward for the way we played. At 1-0 you can never relax, especially when Poland have quality players on the pitch. I thought they showed a lot of heart and fight as well.
“But we came through, and it's job done. I'm very happy about that and I'll be looking forward to going to Brazil, something the whole nation wants and will be backing us for. Their support throughout the campaign has been very good.”
Poland boss Waldemar Fornalik was impressed with England's display, and feels Hodgson's side have improved markedly since they drew 1-1 in Warsaw a year ago.
“England are getting stronger and stronger,” he said. “If you compare how they played tonight and against Montenegro to how they played against us last time we played, it is clear to see they have improved. They are getting better and better, and they will always be one of the contenders for the title.”
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