Southgate looks a man with a plan and Kane a true Golden Boot contender

Talking points from England’s 6-1 World Cup win over Panama, also including Lingard’s quality and a dilemma against Belgium

1) England look so well coached

England have enjoyed their most emphatic World Cup win and are into the last 16. And to think there had been doubts about whether Gareth Southgate boasted sufficient coaching ability to make his grand plan work. Even with the caveat of the standard of opposition, the slick brilliance of this England performance showcased everything being done on the training ground from St George’s Park to Zelenogorsk; from those cross-field diagonal balls for marauding No 8s to collect on the run, via the buildup play from the back, through to the set-piece routines whether from corners or clipped free‑kicks into cluttered areas. Southgate and his assistant Steve Holland are implementing a philosophy and the players are listening.

2) Lingard has found his range

Jesse Lingard had cursed his lack of fortune in Volgograd, where shots struck the woodwork or the goalkeeper’s outstretched leg, but this was the Manchester United forward running amok with reward. The elbow flung at him by Gabriel Gómez inside the first minute merely stung him into action. It was his dart on to Kieran Trippier’s pass which coaxed the first penalty, and his glorious curled finish from distance, after a slick exchange of passes with Raheem Sterling, which secured the third goal. His energy and movement add so much to this team, and to have registered his own plunder will do wonders for his confidence. He oozed class.

3) Kane tops the scoring charts

Harry Kane’s pursuit of the Golden Boot is looking less fanciful with every outing. The pair of first-half penalties dispatched superbly here hoisted him level with Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo in the tournament’s scoring stakes, and the inadvertent clip off his heel to complete his Panama hat-trick after the break took him clear at the top with five goals. Fortune is favouring him. More startlingly, only Gary Lineker (10) has scored more goals for England at World Cups than the Tottenham Hotspur forward, and Kane has played only 154 minutes of football at the finals. He boasts 13 goals in nine games under Southgate, and 11 in seven as England captain. He feels unstoppable at present.

4) Referees have noted Tunisia’s grappling

England had sought clarity from Fifa’s head of referees following their opening win against Tunisia after the Colombian official that night deemed the wrestling of Kane to the ground at corners either side of half-time did not warrant the award of a spot-kick. Their query had related to what might be referred to the VAR, though the emails have served a purpose. Gehad Grisha was far stricter on the offence here, much to Panama’s bemusement. Maybe they had enjoyed more leeway in Concacaf qualifying. Certainly, they seemed unwilling, or unable, to temper the tactic despite warnings from the officials. Kane and Harry Maguire were being fouled as John Stones thumped in his first, and Aníbal Godoy, a serial offender, was spied wrapping his arms round the striker just before the break. The right calls were made.

Holding by Aníbal Godoy of Panama on Harry Kane earns England a penalty, after similar offences went unpunished against Tunisia.
Holding by Aníbal Godoy of Panama on Harry Kane earns England a penalty, after similar offences went unpunished against Tunisia. Photograph: Elsa/Fifa via Getty Images

5) Will anyone want to win on Thursday?

Arguably finishing second in this section would open up a more appealing side of the draw to the quarter-finals and potentially beyond, perhaps leaving England and Belgium with something of a dilemma for the fixture in Kaliningrad on Thursday. Roberto Martínez has suggested he will rest players – he has three on bookings and Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard carrying knocks – and Southgate could be tempted to follow suit. Yet the manager may prefer his young, energetic side to seek to maintain momentum in the hope that claiming the scalp of a contender would pep up confidence even more.


Dominic Fifield at Nizhny Novgorod Stadium

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