Sportsview by David Eidlestein
by David Eidlestein
START digging out the flags and booking the armchair space: after putting us all through 13 months of torture and uncertainty, England have booked their place in next summer's World Cup Finals in Brazil.
A goal apiece from Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard proved enough to see off Poland on Tuesday night and spark an explosion of delight and relief.
Roy Hodgson's team had set up the grand finale by beating Montenegro 3-1 on Friday night in the first of the fixture double-header that completed the qualifying tournament.
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If the back-to-back wins came as a tonic for the team's long-suffering fans, particularly in the light of some grimly uninspiring performances in previous matches, then the manner of England's play was a revelation.
Where did those displays come from? Suddenly, when the chips were down, we saw none of the sterile, unimaginative England that had bored and dismayed us for so long, nor the ultra-cautious, uninspiring tactics of which Hodgson has been accused. Instead we saw an England side fizzing with confidence and brio, keeping possession of the ball, passing to teammates, eschewing the primitive long-ball stuff that has bedevilled our national team for so long.
We saw solid, well-drilled defence but a clear emphasis on attacking play and the upshot was two richly deserved and highly entertaining victories that catapulted Hodgson and his team all the way to Brazil.
Much of the improvement must go down to the fact that the manager's team selection was, for once, not sabotaged by a string of injuries so he was able to call on almost all his best players. Top men like Rooney and Daniel Sturridge were in peak form at the right time.
Timing is often key when it comes to major tournaments, so it would be rash to go overboard when considering England's chances of making an impact in South America.
England rarely do themselves justice in close-season competitions and a major factor in that is that the players are usually suffering from burn-out at the end of a long, gruelling season. Those who haven't been over-played are usually injured.
The dash for cash and overcrowded fixture list in England's domestic game is constantly blamed for the national team's failures but nothing's going to change before the World Cup.
Without wishing to dampen the enthusiasm that prevails this week, eight months is a long time in English football and the big task now will be to maintain that momentum until the team get to Rio.