England manager Roy Hodgson has played down his country’s chances of winning the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
Goals from Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard meant England beat Poland 2-0 at Wembley on Tuesday to finish top of Group E and secure qualification.
“It is not always the best team in the competition who wins it,” said Hodgson.
“But to suggest that because we have qualified from a difficult group makes us one of the favourites, I don’t think many people would believe that.”
England had only beaten San Marino and Moldova in qualification before this week, but two good performances and wins against Montenegro and then Poland ensured the Three Lions qualified for their fifth consecutive World Cup finals.
They finished the campaign unbeaten with 22 points from 10 games, a point ahead of second-placed Ukraine. Their record of just four goals conceded was the equal second best in European qualification, behind Spain.
“We believe we can give a very good account of ourselves and then who knows?” said the 66-year-old.
“The important thing is we are there. We know it is going to be a very tough task, especially in Brazil where a European team has never succeeded before.”
New Football Association chairman Greg Dyke effectively dismissed England’s hopes of winning next year’s tournament shortly after his appointment.
While cautious on England’s chances of success in Brazil, Hodgson believes improvements have been made from the squad that exited Euro 2012 at the quarter-final stage to Italy.
He said: “We have grown a lot since the Euros. If I compare today to how we were playing – although the guys did well for me at the Euros – the way the team is playing is pretty different. That is due to two things: evolution, and due to the players now available to us that weren’t.
“I would like to think the team is progressing, the way we play does improve all the time. If we can keep these players together, who knows?”
The England manager also described reaching next summer’s World Cup as his proudest moment in football.
“I think it will top the lot,” said Hodgson, who guided Switzerland to the 1994 World Cup in the United States. “I’m English. As an Englishman, it means a little bit more to you.
“I died a thousand deaths every time Poland crossed the halfway line [on Tuesday], which is what you do, but I do think this team is growing now.
“England’s a very big football nation. So many people are desperate to see England participate and hopefully do well in a World Cup so we knew it was on our shoulders to make certain we didn’t disappoint them.”
Former England striker Gary Lineker believes Hodgson is sensible to play down his side’s chances of victory in Brazil.
The Match of the Day presenter, who was critical of England’s performance after last month’s goalless draw in Ukraine, tweeted: “Roy Hodgson talking sense in his press conference. Quelling exuberant expectations, without dashing all hope. The voice of reason.”
Next summer’s tournament will open with Brazil in action in Sao Paulo on 12 June 2014, with the final in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, 13 July.
The draw takes place in Bahia, Brazil, on 6 December. England have little chance of being seeded given their Fifa ranking of 17 and could be grouped with the hosts.
A home friendly with Germany next month is expected to be announced imminently, with a second November match to be arranged too.
Opponents for the international break at the beginning of March are not expected to be organised until after the World Cup draw in December.
“I’ll use the next six or seven months to reflect,” Hodgson said. “There’ll be a lot of pressure on us, but this team is growing in accepting pressure.
“The blend between the senior and young players looks good. But the important thing was to do the job.
“It sounded easy: two home matches, win them, no problems. But anyone involved in football knows it’s not as easy as that. The important thing for us is to keep working at our game.”