NIZHNY NOVGOROD, June 24: England’s young and free-flowing team banished the ghost of past national failures with a record 6-1 thrashing of a feeble Panama on Sunday that included a hat-trick by Harry Kane and eased them into the last 16.
England’s biggest-ever World Cup win, which included two penalties by Kane then a deflection off his heel, also guaranteed Belgium’s berth in the next round. England and Belgium have identical records ahead of their meeting next week to decide who tops the group.
It left the shell-shocked Central Americans out of their debut tournament with nine goals conceded in Group G. Tunisia were also eliminated.
Playing from the off with an ease and trickery that contrasted with the stressed-looking England flops of recent international tournaments, Gareth Southgate’s team romped into a remarkable 5-0 lead at half-time.
Defender Jon Stones headed England in front in the eighth minute from a corner, losing his marker to angle home a header, before captain Kane made it 2-0 in the 22nd minute with a penalty after Jesse Lingard was pushed over in the box by Fidel Escobar.
Lingard made it 3-0 in the 36th minute with a beautiful strike from just outside the area before Stones nodded in his second and England’s fourth after a cleverly worked free-kick routine. Kane scored another penalty just before halftime.
The Tottenham striker bagged his third after a 61st minute shot by Ruben Loftus-Cheek hit his foot and bounced over Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
Panama’s equal-sized army of red-shirted fans continued to dance and cheer on the ‘Canaleros’ (Canalmen) to the end.
Substitute Felipe Baloy rewarded them with a consolation goal in the 78th minute, sliding home a free kick that was Panama’s first goal in their debut World Cup.
But in truth, it was a humbling experience for Panama against a side known to get nervous and slip up against less illustrious rivals on the big stage.