Henry Winter in the Daily Telegraph: This was a raucous, draining and utterly magnificent night. This was brilliant by Wayne Rooney, who headed the first, and also Steven Gerrard, the captain who announced England’s flight to the World Cup finals would be leaving on time with that settling second goal. No play-offs, no summer off, England are off to Brazil. England reached those famous beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema via the streets of Merseyside, via those schoolboy games where Rooney and Gerrard developed their touch and their will to win, challenging older boys for possession, standing up to be counted. When Gerrard charged through to score it was possible to narrow the eyes, rewind the mind and it could have been a goal by Bryan Robson, the England player Gerrard most admired as a child. He even wore a Robson shirt during some of those formative games on his Ironside street on the Bluebell Estate of Huyton. This is what they dreamed of back then, reaching a World Cup.
Barney Ronay in the Guardian: England expects. Although perhaps not, in the circumstances, that much. For all the bravura attacking enthusiasm of England's two-legged qualification finale, there will be a sense of caution about exactly what might be in store in Brazil. If a last-ditch sense of vim at home to Montenegro and Poland was thrillingly productive, Roy Hodgson will have no illusions both about the moderate strength of Group H and also the likely effects of allowing one of the tournament favourites the same kind of space in midfield Poland enjoyed at times. And yet for all that, there is a genuine sense of achievement. For England this is perhaps even a first of a kind, a raising of the bar when it comes to general jubilation at simply managing to qualify for a tournament. There are various reasons for this. International football remains a beautifully stark and unforgiving business, unwilling to be bought off or outsourced and answering only to good habits and a wider sense of sporting wellbeing.
Matt Dickinson in The Times: As Wembley throbbed to a thrilling, lurching game last night, it felt as though England were doing more than secure their place in next summer’s World Cup finals. The creeping notion of the slow death of international football was being heartily and gleefully rejected. International football matters; England matter. If you doubt that, consider that around 20 million people will be gathered around a television set next summer gripped to England’s fortunes in Brazil. They will be cheering, yelping, screaming when England line up in the World Cup finals, just as they were last night as Roy Hodgson’s team veered between heaven and hell. This was not just a wonderful match but a magnificent occasion that reminded us why we stay tuned even through the lean years watching England stutter painfully along.
Kevin Garside in the Independent: Thank you, Poland. Thank you for drawing out of England a performance that proved how good a side they can be when provoked. Thank you for a send-off to Brazil that suggests a party might be had. Thank you for releasing a generation of schoolboys from the trauma of defeat 40 years ago and thank you for the atmosphere that turned Wembley into a genuine football experience once more. This was a night that turned the clock back in more ways than one. For a spell in the first half England rediscovered a sense of freedom that seemed forever lost. Generations of running in straight lines, of playing stiff, formulaic football was shunted into history. Roy Hodgson promised the end of fear, and after a watchful start during which Poland might have taken the lead, his team produced arguably the most persuasive argument yet that English footballers speak the lingua franca of the continental game.
Steven Howard in The Sun: Down on the touchline Roy Hodgson celebrated as well he should. He might be 66, but there is a lot of life left in this old dog. It had been a roller-coaster campaign that started in Moldova with a 5-0 win back on September 7 last year, a campaign of six wins and four draws that seemingly would never end. Yes, Hodgson had taken some stick along the way, but even he will admit he deserved it (OK, perhaps he won't).
Oliver Holt in the Daily Mirror: Let us savour what happened just for a minute, because it was an epic. An old-fashioned epic in an old-fashioned din on an old-fashioned night with smoke from Polish flares hanging over Wembley. A nerve-jangling epic of missed chances that Poland should really have scored and that might have ripped the dream of Brazil away from us. An epic where the Poles should not really have cared too deeply about the result but who played as if their lives depended it. It was a beautiful end-to-end game with the outcome in doubt until Steven Gerrard, England’s captain, burst through the middle two minutes from time and, as he fell, poked the ball past Wojciech Szczesny to put England 2-0 up. It was a match that nearly cost us everything but the memory of it will be the better for that.
Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail: And England will now go to Brazil. No ifs, no buts, no play-offs. They won Group H by a point from Ukraine and remained unbeaten with a goal difference of plus 25 thanks, largely, to San Marino. It was not emphatic compared to some of the major nations, but hardly disastrous either. Roy Hodgson, the manager, was proven no turnip, no wally, no clown. He saw England through, if not with the ease, then certainly with gusto coming up the home straight. His team held their nerve in the final two encounters at Wembley and have every reason to feel buoyed. They needed six points and got them, with an aggregate score of 6-1 over two games. In the last five days, too, England have unmistakably discovered a positivity that had been missing under Hodgson; the coach now has a reasonable run of friendly encounters in which to cement it. So, yes, the margins may have been slender, but last night’s performance was impressive in the circumstances, going forward at least.
Paul Joyce in the Daily Express: It was nervous, my how it was nervous, and it was frantic, far, far too frantic, but for Roy Hodgson all’s well that ends well. England are going to Brazil. When Steven Gerrard rounded Kamil Glik and stabbed the ball beyond the advancing Wojciech Szczesny with two minutes remaining, he not only confirmed passage to the World Cup, but conjured a moment that served as a release from all the anxiety, uncertainty, nerves and pressure that had enveloped this pulsating occasion. Until then, one mistimed tackle, one misplaced pass, and the advantage gleaned from Wayne Rooney’s wonderful headed opener just before half-time could have been undone by Poland, bringing forth the prospect of doomsday that Hodgson had been so desperate to avoid. Instead, a party erupted in the stands. Wembley will ready itself for friendly matches next month now rather than the lottery of the play-offs, though on the bench the manager merely looked up to the heavens, knowing that victory was vital after Ukraine had crushed San Marino 8-0.