England ran riot against Panama in one of their best ever World Cup displays to storm into the knockout stages.
The Three Lions went goal crazy in Nizhny Novgorod and the game was well and truly over by half time as Gareth Southgate’s boys scored five times in a stunning first 45 minutes.
Harry Kane scored an historic hat-trick, only the third England player to do so at a World Cup, to boost his Golden Boot chances on what was a golden day for the country by the Volga River.
The heat was searing in Russia but it didn’t slow down the England players and they made a scintillating start to the match.
John Stones broke the deadlock inside the opening 10 minutes as he was given far too much time and space to head home the opener.
Captain Kane doubled the advantage from the penalty spot after Jese Lingard was hauled down by Fidel Escobar.
Lingard was simply sensational in the No. 7 shirt, buzzing all around the pitch, always looking threatening in the final third.
He showed his class to add England’s third when he played a neat one-two with Raheem Sterling and curled a thunderous drive into the top corner.
More than two thousand travelling English fans were in dreamland – three up midway through the first half in a World Cup clash – but it was still to get better.
Kane delicately nodded the ball back across the six-yard line for Sterling, who really should have scored, but Stones was on hand to knock in the rebound.
England complained about the referee after their previous match with Tunisia when protests were waved away for holding in the box.
But you know what they say about London buses? You wait for one and then two come along at once. Well that rang true for England in Nizhny.
The penalty area resembled a wrestling ring as two England players were grappled by Panama players and the referee pointed to the spot.
Kane stepped up once more and once more he made no mistake by slamming home a blistering strike to send Southgate’s team in five ahead at the interval.
It was only natural that the pace of the game would drop in the second period as England could afford to relax and stroll to victory.
But cometh the hour, cometh the man and Kane completed his hat-trick with more than a touch of good fortune.
He deflected in Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s speculative strike and survived a VAR check to beat the offside trap by centimetres to claim the match ball.
It was to be his final touch as he was withdrawn by Southgate to huge applause from the Three Lions supporters. The job was done and the England manager knew it.
Kane is now part of an elite club as only Sir Geoff Hurst and the great Gary Lineker have previously netted three times for the national team on the world stage.
Felipe Baloy did snatch a late consolation for Panama and the way their fans and management celebrated you’d have thought they’d won the trophy.
The superb win sees England join Roberto Martinez’s Belgium in progressing from Group G in advance of the meeting between the pair in the final match before the knockout rounds.
Source: Matt Lewis