Composure Shines Through In England’s Dominant Win Over Panama


England 6-Panama 1

England booked a place in the last 16 with their largest World Cup Finals victory on Sunday, dispatching Panama 6-1. England’s optimism at this year’s tournament continues to rise, scoring 4 goals in a game for the first time since their 4-2 victory against West Germany in the final of 1966 (and two of those goals were in extra time).

It wasn’t so much the sheer gluttony of goals that impressed in England’s victory. For manager Gareth Southgate the most pleasing aspect of the performance would be the way his team kept their composure against a brutally physical opposition. Panama’s improbable road to the finals came with an intimidating approach and general disregard for discipline, so England were prepared to pick up some bruises. The ever dynamic Jesse Lingard caught a vicious elbow to the face and a swipe to the ankle in the opening five minutes. The game-plan was clearly to rattle England and frustrate them, but England refused to be fazed by the onslaught.

Both goals in England’s previous 2-1 win against Tunisia came from crosses from Kieran Trippier, and it was a Trippier corner from the right which found the head of John Stones who ghosted through to head the opening goal after eight minutes. Lingard a break was wrestled to the ground on 22 minutes to earn England a penalty. Harry Kane rifled his shot beautifully to the top corner.

England were by no means dominating the game, but remained patient waiting for Panama’s recklessness to gift opportunities. Jesse Lingard got his revenge by slaloming through the midfield before playing a neat one-two with Raheem Sterling and curling a gorgeous shot past Jaime Penedo for the third. The fourth came from well-worked set-play, which came from a great pass by Jordan Henderson presented John Stones to head home his second. It was a clear example of the work this team has put on the training ground. Just before half-time Kane was rugby tackled to the ground in box for a second penalty, and he blasted a carbon-copy of his first goal to take England in at half-time with a five goal lead.

The second half was better for Panama as they managed to concede just one more goal. A shot from Ruben Loftus-Cheek came of Kane’s heel to give the Spurs striker his hat-trick, the first from an England player at the finals since Gary Linekar in 1986. Kane was substituted just after the hour, which means in less than two games he is now England’s second all-time top scorer at the World Cup Finals with Geoff Hurst, scoring more than Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, and David Beckham ever managed.

Usually plucky underdogs appeal to neutral fans, but Panama’s wretched game-plan made it difficult to root for them. But one couldn’t help but smile when Felipe Baloy slid into a free-kick to score the countries first ever World Cup goal. This is the country whose President declared a national holiday after the country qualified. This is one-in-a-lifetime for Panama players and fans to be a part of this extraordinary sporting festival and it was memorable to see them enjoy their moment.

England had two different tests in Tunisia and Panama and they past them both comprehensively. Their next game against Belgium will show how they cope with one of the world’s genuine heavyweights. Both teams are on the same points, goals scored and goals conceded. If there is a tie it will come down to fair play, and potentially FIFA will have to draw lots to decide who tops the group.

Kane is the undoubted star of the world cup so far for England. There doesn’t seem to be an occasion that can daunt him, and this makes him the perfect captain for a nation that has been so often crippled with fear and self-doubt. This is a team that is relaxed and enjoying playing together. After the match Harry Kane tweeted a team photo saying “Love this team,” and you know he means it. There is a camaraderie that is a vital ingredient to any successful team.

It is a testament to Southgate that he has got the players to collectively buy into his system and plan. But it also says a lot about these players, many of whom are trained on a daily basis by the elite coaches in the game (Guardiola, Mourinho, Pochettino and Klopp etc.), that they have been so receptive to Southgate’s ideas. It’s difficult to imagine the stubborn club-loyal stars of the “Golden Generation” to have given Southgate the time of day.

Yes it was ‘only Panama’ but we have been accustomed to seeing Rooney and Gerrard huff-and-puff in exasperating performances against “lesser teams” at previous World Cups. Watching England calmly swat away Panama with minimum fuss was a rare, and joyful sight for England fans.


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