England ran riot and scored five goals in the first half as they blew away Panama to secure qualification from Group G. Harry Kane added another strike in the second half to cap off a complete performance by the Three Lions.
John Stones opened the scoring then added a second after Kane scored from the spot and Jesse Lingard’s curled in from the edge of the box.
Kane’s second penalty before the break took him level with Cristiano Ronaldo’s four goals, but edged in front of the Portuguese talisman when Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot deflected off him and in.
Felipe Baloy added a consolation goal for Panama in the 78th minute to give them something to take home in their first ever World Cup.
Belgium will qualify as group winners if they draw with England in the final game of the group.
Here’s five things we learned from Nizhny Novgorod
England show set piece strength
England have clearly been working very hard on their set pieces and the practice on the training ground is proving very profitable on the pitch.
Stones showed aggression and desire to run from the edge of the box and head Kieran Trippier’s delivery into the net to open the scoring. The delivery was aimed at the penalty spot, an area which England dominated against Tunisia.
England are so big a threat from corners that the Panamanian defenders decided the only way to stop them is to wrestle them to the ground. Kane won and converted his second penalty of the game after being hauled down by Fidel Escobar inside the box.
Five of England’s eight goals this tournament have come as a result of a set piece, and England’s future opponents will be very concerned about the Three Lions’ aerial threat.
Kane relishing extra responsibility
Kane’s revelation that he wants to challenge Ronaldo for the golden boot award raised a smirk or two, but it is time to take his claim to be the World Cup’s top goal scorer seriously.
In his seven games with the armband on, Kane has scored ten goals for England. Nick Pope said that he has seen a step up in his performances since Southgate named his as the skipper for the World Cup, and on the pitch Kane is relishing the additional responsibility.
The Tottenham forward, who has now scored over 5 per cent of England’s goals at World Cups, is one of the most determined strikers around and is showing all the right mental signs of a world class forward.
Kane’s now leads the golden boot race after his hat-trick took him one above Ronaldo’s and Romelu Lukaku’s four strikes.
Southgate’s tinkering playing off
As England manager Southgate has named a unique starting team in all 20 of his matches in charge. He has found a system which is getting the best out of this England team and his use of rotation and experimentation is paying off.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek for Dele Alli was the only change from England’s win against Tunisia. Although it was enforced it kept the side looking fresh, Southgate has shown he can make the right calls when naming his starting teams.
Jamie Vardy and Fabian Delph came on after an hour as Southgate gave Kane and Lingard a well-earned break. Danny Rose was Southgate’s third change, replacing Kieran Trippier in the 70th minute.
Panama show aggressive side
England will have watched Panama pick up five yellow cards in their game with Belgium and know they were in for a rough game. Lingard took an early elbow to the head and Harry Maguire took issue with some of Panama’s tackling as tempers flared in the 30 degree heat.
Panama became the most ill-disciplined team and have collected eight yellow cards, more than any other team, not to mention the two penalties they conceded.
England vulnerable down left side
While England were absolutely scintillating going forward, Southgate will know he can still improve this team by addressing some defensive blips.
All of Panama’s rare attacks came down England’s left flank and Ashley Young was often outnumbered at the back. Edgar Barenas came close with a curling effort after drifting inside from the left side, Jordan Pickford watched his attempt drift wide but passed cautious glares at his defence.
Of course, it was an outstanding performance, but the best teams never stop looking for ways to get better and tougher tests will come. Danny Rose is standing by and could be given the nod ahead of Young in England’s final games against Belgium.
Panama’s goal was a result of Stones switching off when England were playing a high line to defend a deep Panama free kick. The delivery to the front post was met by Baloy who was being kept onside by Stones who dropped deep at the back post.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies