At last, England fans can breathe easy: the Three Lions will be at the World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Despite leaving it until the last game of their qualifying campaign to seal their fate, a 2-0 win against Poland at Wembley guaranteed Roy Hodgson's men progression to next summer's tournament.
But the key question of which players will represent their country remains. So with qualification finally complete, Goal brings you the third edition of the Hodgson Index, charting the state of the 66-year-old's squad at a key point in the manager's tenure.
|ON THE PLANE
|Joe Hart (Manchester City)
Glen Johnson (Liverpool)
Kyle Walker (Tottenham)
Phil Jagielka (Everton)
Gary Cahill (Chelsea)
Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
Leighton Baines (Everton)
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Theo Walcott (Arsenal)
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool)
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)
UP: Michael Carrick (Manchester United)
UP: Andros Townsend (Tottenham)
Despite constant criticism this season - much of it warranted - Joe Hart looks more likely than ever to be Hodgson's first-choice goalkeeper next summer. A clean sheet against Poland, including an authoritative save when stared down by the lethal Robert Lewandowski, and an impressive performance against Montenegro, have consolidated Hart's place in the England net.
In defence, meanwhile, neither of England's final two encounters have changed a thing. Ashley Cole is virtually guaranteed a spot in the squad, while Leighton Baines has enhanced his case immeasurably. At right-back, Glen Johnson and Kyle Walker can match anyone in the world for pace, while Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill are forming a promising partnership through the middle.
However, it is in midfield where England's most recent qualifiers have prompted the first major shift. Indeed, Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick can no longer go ignored.
Calls for the 32-year-old to be prioritised at international level are nothing new - but his ball retention and excellent shielding of the back four against Poland proved his utility beyond doubt. Carrick's inclusion also casts no extra selection worries over the roles of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard or Jack Wilshere. The trio will most certainly travel to Brazil.
The biggest lesson Hodgson learned during England's last two qualifiers, though, was delivered by Tottenham's Andros Townsend. The winger shone against both Poland and Montenegro, despite having no previous senior international experience. And though critics may argue that two games cannot demonstrate enough about the 22-year-old's long-term ability, his impact has been so powerful that he must surely be considered an automatic selection at a time when his form can only improve.
A man-of-the-match performance against Montenegro - capped by a stunning goal on his England debut - justified his initial inclusion, while a resilient performance against Poland showed it was no fluke. Along with Wayne Rooney, Premier League top scorer Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and the simply too-athletic-to-ignore Theo Walcott, then, Townsend will be in Brazil next summer.
|John Ruddy (Norwich City)
Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Chris Smalling (Manchester United)
Tom Cleverley (Manchester United)
James Milner (Manchester City)
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
Aaron Lennon (Tottenham)
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham)
Rickie Lambert (Southampton)
Ross Barkley (Everton)
Fraser Forster (Celtic)
UP: Ravel Morrison (West Ham)
Indeed, a number of the Three Lions' supporting cast may feel they were in a much stronger position the day before Montenegro were conquered than the day after qualification has been sealed.
Take Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, for instance. The Manchester United duo are renowned for their versatility - yet mere versatility is no longer proving enough to hold down a place in the national side. Both defenders are centre-backs by trade but neither has shown the requisite form to oust either Cahill or Jagielka. At full-back, meanwhile, Smalling looked unconvincing against Poland and Jones went unused in both qualifiers.
In midfield, the same can be said of Tom Cleverley and James Milner. While neither did anything wrong per se, the deficiencies of both were exposed by influential performances from their competitors. In Milner's case, the Manchester City winger saw just seven minutes of action after being dropped for Townsend - a decision Hodgson will look back on with no regrets.
For Cleverley, however, the task looks considerably more daunting. At club level, the 24-year-old has been dislodged by Carrick and Marouane Fellaini. At international level, he faces pressure from Carrick, Lampard, Gerrard and Wilshere, all of whom have a proven pedigree at all levels.
Questions have been asked about Hodgson's faith in the Manchester United midfielder for some time and, with an injury-enforced absence keeping Cleverley out against Poland and Montenegro and illuminating the abilities of more suitable alternatives, those questions are likely to grow.
Nevertheless, the biggest mover in this section is a man who played no part against either Poland or Montenegro. Instead, Ravel Morrison impressed in both England Under-21 qualifiers against San Marino and Lithuania. In the latter game, in particular, the youngster was superb, netting twice and serving up a similar wonder-goal to the one he produced against Tottenham for West Ham in the Premier League. If the 20-year-old continues to keep clear of trouble and maintain such form, the England boss will have some food for thought.
Elsewhere, England's most recent outings have told us nothing about John Ruddy and Fraser Forster, though the pair still remain the likeliest to travel alongside Joe Hart at this point. To fill the role of the Manchester City stopper's deputy, Hodgson will need a goalkeeper in form and playing regular football at a high level. By that brief, both fit the bill.
|Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Ben Foster (West Brom)
Matt Lowton (Aston Villa)
Luke Shaw (Southampton)
Steven Caulker (Cardiff City)
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City)
Joleon Lescott (Manchester City)
Jack Rodwell (Manchester City)
Gareth Barry (Everton)
Adam Lallana (Southampton)
Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Nathan Redmond (Norwich City)
Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United)
Andy Carroll (West Ham)
Michael Dawson (Tottenham)
Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal)
NEW ENTRY: Saido Berahino (West Brom)
NEW ENTRY: James Ward-Prowse (Southampton)
NEW ENTRY: Harry Kane (Tottenham)
The young Lions may not have faced the likes of Spain or Germany - but their performances have still shown an immense level of promise and potential.
As such, three newcomers have made the outsiders list: Saido Berahino, James Ward-Prowse and Harry Kane, all of whom netted against San Marino or Lithuania.
It was the latter who scored the most - notching a hat-trick against San Marino - despite not featuring in the follow-up. The Tottenham forward has a point to prove this term, having featured just the once in the Premier League all season, but he is certainly showing what he can do with game time.
Berahino and Ward-Prowse, too, impressed over the course of the two qualifiers. The former netted twice against Lithuania, while Ward-Prowse scored a stunning free kick in the same encounter. With both youngsters also in good form for their clubs, a little chat with Southgate about the pair - and Kane - will do Hodgson no harm at all.
Meanwhile, Wilfried Zaha produced another solid display against Lithuania, registering two assists. The winger has the added bonus of already having made his senior debut, though a loan move away from Manchester United may be his only chance of making the squad.
For the rest of the names in this category, it is a case of as you were - with one or two minor exceptions.
Raheem Sterling, for example, will be enthused about his chances of making the World Cup next summer. The Liverpool winger has made a truly awful start to the club season, though Hodgson still opted to promote him to the senior squad as injury cover against Poland.
Conversely, while Gareth Barry has been offered no signs of support by the England setup, his form at Everton arguably gives him more than an outside shot of making the trip to Brazil.
For Kieran Gibbs, however, the national side's most recent qualifiers perhaps offer a damning verdict of the Arsenal full-back's standing within the international game. Selected for the squad as cover for Cole, Gibbs may have been hopeful of a start at right-back against Poland when Walker was suspended. Hodgson opted for Smalling, though, confirming that - while Gibbs is England's third choice at left back - he has even less chance of deputising on the other flank.
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