Steven Gerrard's late strike helped seal England's place at next year's World Cup finals in Brazil after a pulsating 2-0 victory over Poland at Wembley.

Wayne Rooney's header, minutes before half-time, gave them the lead on the night, before Gerrard stormed through the heart of the opposition defence to poke home the second in the 88th minute.

The win guaranteed Roy Hodgson's side automatic qualification as Group H winners.

England knew they had to win when Ukraine raced into an early lead over San Marino in a game they would eventually win 8-0.

But Hodgson' side rose to the challenge as they too flew out of the blocks in what quickly became a frenetic, end-to-end encounter.

Andros Townsend spearheaded the home threat with his pace and perseverance, while the usually lethal Robert Lewandowski squandered Poland's best chance as England were carved open on the break.


Sturridge might have broken the deadlock when Townsend picked him out on the edge of the box, but the Liverpool striker found himself hemmed in by red shirts.

Chaos ensued when Townsend rattled the bar with a sensational effort; Gerrard then gathered the rebound and fed Sturridge, who thrashed a shot at goal from a tight angle.

Danny Welbeck lashed wide from point-blank range; Rooney hammered one against Szczesny as Sturridge stalked the Polish defence and Leighton Baines arrowed crosses in from wide.

On 41 minutes, Baines sparked the breakthrough with a precise, curling cross for Rooney to guide home with a perfectly executed header for 1-0.

There was no let-up in the second half from England. Rooney began to exert more influence; Gerrard rifled a shot wide after nutmegging an opponent and Sturridge's rocket of a strike was saved well by Szczesny.

Sturridge was withdrawn in the 81st minute to be replaced by Jack Wilshere before Gerrard's late solo drive guaranteed England a place at next year's World Cup.

Meanwhile, there was disappointment for Daniel Agger as he scored two penalties during Denmark's 6-0 rout over Malta, but it was not enough to keep his country's World Cup hopes alive.

The commanding win in Copenhagen sealed second place in World Cup qualifying Group B for the Danes - but Agger's side missed out on a play-off berth as they finished with the weakest record of the nine runners-up.

Elsewhere, Mamadou Sakho was an unused substitute as France guaranteed a place in the play-offs with a 3-0 win over Finland and Jack Robinson was in action for England U21s as they thrashed Lithuania 5-0.

Simon Mignolet was an unused substitute in Belgium's 1-1 draw with Wales - a game in which 16-year-old Reds starlet Harry Wilson made history.

Earlier in the day, Lucas Leiva played his first full game for Brazil in two years as Oscar and Dede found the net in their 2-0 friendly victory over Zambia.

Tiago Ilori played the full 90 minutes for Portugal U21s as they were 2-0 winners over Azerbaijan thanks to goals from Braga's Rafa Silva and Benfica's Ivan Cavaleiro.

Meanwhile, Jordon Ibe was an unused substitute as Noel Blake's England U19s progressed to the Elite Round of their UEFA European U19 Championship qualification bid with a 1-0 win over Switzerland.