England recorded their biggest win at a World Cup to overwhelm Panama and secure a place in the last 16 before their final Group G game with Belgium.
Harry Kane played a captain’s role once more with a hat-trick to become the tournament’s leading scorer, as England built on their opening victory against Tunisia with an impressive show of ruthlessness and quality.
John Stones opened the scoring with an early header before Kane added the second with a thunderous penalty after Jesse Lingard had been fouled.
Lingard added the third in the 36th minute with a brilliant curling effort from 25 yards and, as Panama crumbled, Stones crowned a slick set-piece routine by heading his second and Kane made it 5-0 before half-time with another penalty after he was wrestled to the ground.
Kane completed his treble with a fortunate deflection from Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot after the break, before Panama’s noisy supporters were able to celebrate their first goal at a World Cup through Felipe Baloy.
The margin of victory for England topped 3-0 wins over Poland and Paraguay in Mexico in 1986, and against Denmark in 2002.
England top Group G as they have fewer yellow cards than Belgium. If they draw the final game it will go down to disciplinary records to decide who finishes first – and if that is level lots will be drawn
Ruthless England sparkle in the sun
England’s opening win over Tunisia contained one serious flaw that needed correcting – namely a lack of ruthlessness and clinical edge in front of goal.
As Panama were totally dismantled, the failing was addressed and then some as a place in the last-16 stage was secured in quick-fire fashion.
Strangely, England had actually made a subdued and sloppy start before Stones powered in Kieran Trippier’s corner to put them ahead. It was plain sailing from then on.
Southgate’s side sparkled in Nizhny Novgorod, pace and movement mixed with flashes of individual brilliance such as Lingard’s goal to reduce Panama to an ill-disciplined shambles.
When they get it right, England have the firepower to trouble any team, with captain Kane a spearhead approaching world class.
They also showed commendable first-half discipline to avoid getting involved in Panama’s ham-fisted physical approach, simply letting the inevitable take its course in the hands of Egyptian referee Ghead Grisha, who was determined to punish penalty-area transgressions.
England inevitably eased off with the game and that place in the last 16 no longer in doubt, and of course greater tests lie ahead. But this was the sort of commanding performance that will do wonders for confidence as the World Cup reaches the knockout stage.
England reap set-piece rewards
The piece of paper in assistant manager Steve Holland’s hand that ended up not revealing England’s starting XI was the main talking point from their Zelenogorsk training base this week.
There can be more talk from the training ground now – about England’s hard work behind closed doors on set-pieces that has reaped a rich reward in Volgograd and now here in Nizhny Novgorod.
England’s players have clearly been made aware of the potential of set-piece strength at this World Cup, particularly in the context of the video assistant referee (VAR) and the potential for physical defending to be punished.
It brought two goals from corners for Kane against Tunisia and another superb Tripper delivery led to Stones’ first goal, Panama’s defenders too interested in dragging Harry Maguire around than keeping an eye on the Manchester City defender.
The crowning glory, however, was Stones’ second – another header that capped a perfectly worked routine that had almost brought a goal for Raheem Sterling first and was implemented after lengthy discussions between several England players.
Southgate’s men are playing to their strengths and defences will find it hard to cope with the physical presence and threat the manager can employ.
Panama offer little resistance
World Cup debutants Panama stubbornly resisted Belgium until the early stages of the second half before slumping to a 3-0 defeat in their first game.
This Group G game was over as a contest once Stones gave England that early lead as Panama’s ill-discipline and lack of organisation was brutally exposed.
However, they did score their first World Cup goal through Baloy to spark great celebrations from their supporters, who can at least return home with that treasured memory.
For England’s part, they can only make the best of the opposition in front of them – and they delivered an outstanding result.
How far can England go?
This is the question that will now be asked – and one that can only be answered by performances against teams boasting more quality than Panama.
What can be said with confidence is that this has been an impressive, vibrant opening to their World Cup campaign by England, and while it is early days and the serious business will start in the knockout phase, Southgate and his squad will not have seen anything they should fear.
England possess real threat up front but may need to shore up an attack-minded midfield against better opposition, and the defence – which has looked vulnerable on occasions – has yet to be seriously tested.
So far, so good though – and England can get back to work at their training base on the Gulf of Finland with last-16 qualification assured before their most hazardous group game and with confidence and national expectations soaring.
Man of the match – Harry Kane (England)
Kane joins elite groups – the stats
- England have won their opening two group-stage games at a World Cup for the third time, also doing so in 1982 and 2006.
- This was England’s biggest win at a major tournament.
- This was only the fifth occasion a side had scored five goals before half-time in a World Cup match, and the first since Germany did so against Brazil in the 2014 semi-final.
- England scored as many goals in this game as in their previous seven World Cup matches combined.
- Only in 1966 (11) have England scored more goals in a World Cup than they have so far in Russia (eight, same as 1954 and 1990).
- Panama have conceded nine goals in their first two World Cup matches. The last time a team conceded more was in 1974, with Zaire shipping 11 and Haiti conceding 10.
- Only two players have been older than Panama’s Baloy (37 years and 120 days) when scoring their first World Cup goal – Cameroon’s Roger Milla (38 years and 25 days) in 1990 and Sweden’s Gunnar Gren (37 years 236 days) in 1958.
- Stones became the first England defender to score two goals in a World Cup match.
- Kane is the third England player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup match, after Geoff Hurst against Germany in the 1966 final and Gary Lineker against Poland in 1986.
- Kane is the first player to score at least twice in both of his first two World Cup appearances since Grzegorz Lato of Poland in 1974. Lato went on to win the Golden Boot at that tournament.
- Kane is now the leading scorer at the 2018 World Cup with five goals, and he has netted with all of his shots on target.
England play Belgium at Kaliningrad Stadium on Thursday to see who tops the group (19:00 BST kick-off).