England roared past a physical Panama side and bared their own teeth with a 6-1 decimation of the Central Americans in Nizhny Novgorod.
The Three Lions made light of the 31 degree heat and the physicality of their opponents by scoring more than four goals in a World Cup finals match for the first time.
John Stones and Harry Kane both nabbed first-half doubles, while Jesse Lingard’s magnificent bending effort meant they went in five goals to the good at the break.
Kane notched his fifth of the competition – making him the tournament’s top scorer, ahead of Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo – on the hour mark, as Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s effort deflected off his heel and past helpless Panama keeper Jaime Penedo.
As against Tunisia, England made a fast start to their second match in Russia, taking the lead after just eight minutes.
Now, as then, it came from Kieran Trippier’s right-wing corner. Again, the outswinger found the head of John Stones, but this time the Manchester City’s powerful effort found the back of the net for his first international goal.
England offered a rambunctious Panama side some encouragement in the early stages, and were thankful for Kyle Walker’s sliding interception as Blas Perez waited to turn home Edgar Barcenas’ dangerous low cross.
However, England were soon back in command and doubled their advantage from the penalty spot, Kane ruthlessly netting after Lingard was flattened by the converging Fidel Escobar and Roman Torres.
Lingard himself made it three with a sumptuous effort from 25 yards after 36 minutes, before Stones headed home from close range four minutes later after an inventive set piece routine.
Kane was hauled down on the stroke of half-time for another penalty, which the Spurs striker against rattled past Penedo to complete the first-half scoring.
With job done and in sweltering conditions, the tempo understandably slowed in the second half, but England still managed a sixth, as Kane was awarded his hat-trick when Loftus-Cheek’s effort was diverted into the net off his heel.
However, Southgate will have been furious at seeing his side conceded to Armando Cooper Baloy with 12 minutes remaining, minutes after a warning when Roman Torres had fired wide from four yards.
Their place in the last 16 secured, they meet Belgium to decide the group winner later this week.
Here are five talking points from the clash…
1. King Kane on course for Golden Boot
It didn’t quite have the same grandeur of Cristiano Ronaldo’s treble for Portugal against Spain, but the second hat-trick of the finals means Harry Kane leads the race for the Golden Boot.
Gary Lineker took the title in 1986, helped by a treble in the group stage against Poland and Kane now has five to his name after putting Panama to the sword.
His penalties were both ruthlessly fired into the roof of the net, by a player who appeals to be bristling with confidence.
And he got that little bit of luck all strikers desire at major tournaments, knowing little as Loftus-Cheek’s effort diverted off him into the net.
After Tunisia and Panama the tests are only going to get more difficult, put Kane very much has his eye in right now, and looks well set to further add to his total.
2. England’s pied piper proves his worth again
Jesse Lingard is a big favourite of Gareth Southgate’s and the Manchester United man continues to prove his worth in this Three Lions side.
Lingard has fast become first choice in 2018, his winner against Holland and assist for Jamie Vardy’s goal against Italy in the March friendlies cementing his spot.
And he continues to showcase his importance, thriving in a midfield role that allows him to run beyond the ball and stretch teams with his pace and movement.
His running forced the issue and won England’s first penalty of the game, while he displayed real quality with his excellent strike.
But it is his movement off the ball which is really proving crucial for the Three Lions; few players at the entire tournament are better than Lingard at moving without the ball.
3. Set piece success
Given the nature of international football, where there is less time to develop detailed structures on the training ground, set pieces remain a key part of success.
Over 40 per cent of goals at the finals so far have come via set pieces, and England have been outstanding (attack wise) so far.
Both goals against Tunisia came via corner routines, as did Stones’ opener today. Harry Kane slotted home twice from penalties, while Stones’ second goal came from a wonderfully-well worked set piece routine, devised by assistant boss Steve Holland.
That’s six of eight goals (75 per cent) from England in Russia coming from set-piece routines thus far.
4. Still some defensive worries
It has to be said that, amid the goal glut, England are still a little easy to play through at times.
Panama had chances in the opening 15 minutes, with counters in behind the wing-backs followed by quick balls across the defence.
They also had chances from set plays themselves, England appearing less reliable in their own box than at the other end – something which outraged Jordan Pickford at one point in the second half.
Against Belgium in the dead rubber, we’ll know much more about just how far Southgate’s side can go.
5. Henderson key to Southgate’s evolution
Often maligned, often questioned, but always picked when fit. Jordan Henderson may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s critical to Southgate’s England vision.
Always there in support, always available to back up a teammate, at times he’s asked to perhaps do too much in a formation designed to exploit opponents and make the most of midfield runners.
But Henderson does his job extremely well, sitting, breaking attacks and keeping things tikcing over. Again his passing was on point here, whether designed to take sting out of the game, or to speed up attacks; it was the Liverpool man who looped into the box first-time in the routine that led to Stones’ second, a terrific ball on the half turn with his instep.
Henderson has really matured in the last few years under Jurgen Klopp, changing his role in midfield from a No.8 to a No.6, becoming a leader at the heart of the action, increasingly vocal.
Southgate and England are really starting to benefit and as we come to the crunch, he’s going to have a bigger role to play.