England put Panama to the sword in their Group G clash on Sunday night, romping to a 6-1 victory on the back of a Harry Kane hat-trick at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium.
John Stones opened the scoring in the eighth minute, meeting Kieran Trippier’s corner with a strong header as Panama’s marking in the box went missing.
Kane then smashed home a penalty to double the advantage after Jesse Lingard was brought down, thrashing it into the top corner. Lingard then scored a stunning third, linking up with Raheem Sterling on the edge of the box before letting fly and watching the ball kiss the underside of the crossbar.
Just minutes later it was four, with a scintillating routine culminating in Stones scoring his second, after Sterling had seen his initial header saved.
A second Kane penalty ensured the Three Lions had a handful going into the half-time break, slamming the ball into the same place as his first attempt.
The England captain got his hat-trick in sensational fashion, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s left-footed drive deflecting off him in a stationary position and into the net past a hapless Jaime Penedo in goal for Panama.
12 minutes from time, Los Canaleros supporters were sent into delirium when Felipe Baloy got one of the six goals back, sliding in to finish expertly from a free kick. Even match commentator Martin Tyler – an Englishman himself – was delighted for the World Cup debutees.
Ruthless victory, but tougher tests to come
Scoring six goals in any game of football is not easy, and to do it so effortlessly and casually is yet an even greater accomplishment.
England at times played through and around Panama as if they were not even there, debunking their midfield structure and slicing through their defence with ease.
The front players identified Panama’s defensive weakness, and frequently made intelligent runs in behind their backline, either to pick up the ball in advanced areas themselves, or open up space behind for a midfielder to make a marauding run from deep.
Gareth Southgate’s side continue to pose a major threat from set-pieces, having scored as a result of four already, with the likes of Stones and Harry Maguire coming up from the defence and becoming a menacing presence in the penalty box.
The Three Lions are playing pleasingly cohesive football across all areas of the pitch, and with multiple arrows in their quiver of ways to hurt an opposition defence, they have the power to do some damage in this competition.
Defence is still a slight issue though, with Panama’s goal coming as a result of some transparent marking in the box, and they often allowed Hernán Darío Gómez’s side a half chance due to sloppy position or shaky play at the back.
With all due respect, England will face far greater opposition than Panama from here on in, with Belgium next on the agenda, but with the performance levels and confidence that this victory will bring, the sky is the limit.
A gulf in class
All the neutral observes watching in Nizhny Novgorod were on Panama’s side and could feel for them as they were simply trounced by a far superior opposition.
Qualifying for their first World Cup has been a massive achievement for such a small nation, and just being there is something that the players, coaches and Panamanians all over will never forget.
However, once you reach the tournament, you would hope for a better showing than conceding eight goals and scoring one in two thumpings to start the group stages.
The way in which they played demonstrated the distance between the two sides, with Panama resulting to manhandling England’s players in the box and scything them down through the midfield in order to stem the damage.
Despite obvious restrictions with regards to federation allocations, there are undoubtedly fans of Italy, the Netherlands and Chile among others, watching this game and wondering why their countries are not in Panama’s place – thinking that they could have done a far superior job. With 48 teams set to participate from 2026, results like this could become a regular occurrence.
For now, it is back to the drawing board for Panamanian football, and they will hope that they can return to the world stage and better represent themselves when the time comes.
Intriguing scenario in Group G
An interesting outcome has eventuated in this group, with both Belgium and England already qualified for the knockout stages ahead of their meeting in the final group game.
As it stands, the Three Lions are atop the group by fair play, as goals scored (eight) and goals against (two) are the same for both teams.
However, there is much talk floating around social media that finishing second in the group is perhaps a more desirable result, due to the way other groups and knockout matches seem to be shaping up.
Second place in the group will face the winner of Group H (Colombia, Senegal, Poland and Japan), followed by the winner of the round of 16 match that will likely be Mexico and second place in Group E (between Switzerland, Serbia and Brazil).
Assuming Brazil top their group, then the winner of Group G will be faced with a clash against either Brazil or Germany in the quarter-finals, due to Germany’s rough start likely resulting in them finishing runner up to Mexico.
It all seems very complex, but at the end of the day, there are no easy matches in the World Cup finals. Whatever eventuates, more excitement and drama is set to ensue in Russia, in what has already been a fantastic tournament.