An expectant nation looked on. The home of football played host. Nothing less than a win would do. We needed bravery, we needed aggression, we needed the cool serenity required for the cleanest of kills. We needed lions.
The game itself had it all; pace, incision between the lines, tempo, atmosphere. The Poles played their part but this was about England. About lions. The pride hunted as one and more than a few could be heralded for dominant displays in their positions but tonight, three performances defined the balance of the current England team. Three lions roared louder than the rest.
Steven Gerrard. Gerrard is a man who sniffs out the opportunity for heroism. One of the finest midfielders of his generation, he has made a career out of big performances in big games and tonight was no different. For years fans of England have been begging for Gerrard to recreate his Liverpool form – to wrestle victory from the jaws of defeat for country like he has done so many times for club before. He said himself before tonight’s game that the pain of England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 would motivate him to ensure that history would not repeat itself. Watching him strain every sinew to convert England’s second goal this evening you got the feeling you were watching a man who sensed one last opportunity to etch his name forever into English footballing history lay in Brazil in 2014 – and he is just not a man to miss that sort of opportunity. Gerrard is arguably the last remaining member of a ‘golden generation’ which failed to live up to its billing. In that sense he represents an old head among Roy Hodgson’s increasingly young squad. However make no mistake, should England need a hero next summer then expect to see Gerrard coming over the horizon as he did at Wembley tonight.
Wayne Rooney. Half the tagline is written; “The maverick wonderkid who became a world class talent. The world class talent that plateaued as a top level utility man….” And now the nation wants to know how the story will end. Rooney isn’t a kid anymore. A player in his mid-twenties with nearly 300 top flight appearances and Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup winners medals littering his trophy cabinet, Rooney has long since been hailed as the saviour of the English national team – and thus far failed to live up to that expectation. Nonetheless the talent is undeniable and on tonight’s showing, the hunger is too. Rooney has made a strong start to the domestic season, thriving in his favoured central position and against Poland he was the pivot point around which almost all of England’s creativity centred. Receiving the ball deep he allowed the pace, movement and youthful ingenuity of other attacking players to swirl around in front of him. His movement was exceptional, his touch delicate, his finish for England’s first goal unerring. If this is the Wayne Rooney that turns up in Brazil then England may finally have the talisman they have been craving.
Andros Townsend. If Gerrard is the flag bearer for England’s past - Rooney it’s present – then on this showing, Andros Townsend is very much the country’s future. The modern game is built on decisive physical attributes and like a couple of other notable wingers playing at the top of the game at the moment (is it too soon for the Ronaldo and Bale comparisons!?), Townsend has two critical assets; pace and power. Time and time again tonight Townsend ghosted past his marker(s) like he wasn’t there, showing equal ease on either side with decent end product from both left and right foot and posing a constant goal threat down England’s right hand side. Although very different players I would go so far as to say that this was the most accomplished display from an England number 7 since David Beckham wore the shirt. At 22 Townsend quite literally now has the world at his feet and tonight he epitomised the fast, threatening England that had fans across the country purring. If Andros Townsend is the future of English football then it is already looking a little brighter than we have been led by some quarters to believe.