England sealed their passage to the World Cup round of 16 with a 6-1 win over Panama. A scrappy game saw Harry Kane net a hat-trick including two penalties, defender John Stones bag a brace of headers and Jesse Lingard score a sensational goal from outside the area.
Despite 30 degree heat in Nizhny Novgorod, a military city closed off during the Soviet era, officials decided against scheduling water breaks in the match. You felt when Lingard went down in the first minute requiring attention from England’s medical staff that it was a little early to be milking it for a break, and replays showed he’d taken an elbow to the face from Panama’s most capped player, Gabriel Gomez.
Panama’s scrappy play would go on to define the game, and also allow England’s first goal, from a corner. While everyone was distracted by some feral holding from the Panama defence, especially on Kane, centre-back Stones evaded his marker to head home his first international goal after his near miss against Tunisia.
The early goal seemed to calm England down against Panama’s niggling. Armando Cooper was booked for a foul on the lively Lingard before his side showed they were still a threat on the counter-attack. Good work from New York Red Bulls right-back Michael Murillo saw him beat two England defenders before whipping in a cross in for Edgar Barcenas who couldn’t find the target.
It wasn’t long, though, before England were two up. Lingard expertly drew a foul from the ill-disciplined Panama as he was bundled over by two defenders after running through on goal. Despite a pause, while the VAR officials investigated a possible offside before the incident, captain Kane stepped up with a piledriver into the top left corner, becoming the first England player since 1962 to score in his first two World Cup games.
The tempo seemed to drop somewhat after this, perhaps as the heat began to affect England, but the almost testimonial pace at times was broken up by Lingard who got on the scoresheet himself as he dribbled forward and placed a superb shot into the top-right corner from well outside the penalty area.
Next to join the rout and make it four for England was Stones again, after an audacious set-piece straight off the training ground was nicely worked to Raheem Stirling, whose close-range header could only be parried by Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo into the path of Stones who was there to nod home unmarked.
Panama clearly hadn’t learnt their lesson from earlier. Anibal Godoy was bear-hugging Kane at every opportunity with Stones now also marked out for special treatment at set-pieces. Perhaps, then, it was only a matter of time before Egyptian referee Ghead Grisha backed up his verbal warnings with action. He finally cracked, pointing to the spot and, after another pause for VAR confirmation, booked defender Fidel Escobar. On the stroke of half-time Kane stepped up to smash in a second, almost identical, penalty to make it 5-0 at the break.
Gareth Southgate made no changes at half-time and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, deputising for Dele Alli who is suffering from a thigh strain, was the only change from England’s opening win over Tunisia. He was looking superb, and his shot from range deflected off Kane’s heel to give the skipper his hat-trick and extend England’s lead to six.
England’s progress was halted somewhat by a double substitution of their leading lights just after the hour mark. No sooner had Kane finished celebrating securing his hat-trick, he was replaced by Jamie Vardy, and Lingard made way for Fabian Delph.
To their credit, Panama continued pressing, and after substitute Rose conceded a corner, Roman Torres poked a good chance just wide. However, it wasn’t long before 37-year-old Panama captain Felipe Beloy, playing in his last international tournament, capitalised on some sloppy English defending to send his fans into raptures and score a memorable goal, from a Ricardo Avila free kick.
Sterling was denied a deserved goal as he flashed wide for England, and Panama exerted a bit more pressure in stoppage time, but the game ended 6-1 to England.
Panama’s goal means that England are level on points and goal difference with Belgium at the top of Group G, so a draw between the two sides on Thursday may not be enough to see England top the group – in this instance it would go down to the fair play rankings of bookings, which England currently lead by virtue of having collected one less yellow card.
Southgate’s men will be confident of beating whoever they draw in the round of 16, however, with all of their potential opponents in Group H; Japan, Poland, Senegal and Columbia, looking beatable.