England set up a World Cup Group G showdown with Belgium thanks to a commanding 6-1 victory over Panama on Sunday.
Gareth Southgate’s men were looking to build on that last-gasp 2-1 win against Tunisia last Monday, but didn’t even need to be at their best here as they had little resistance from a Panama side that ran out of steam and invention quickly in the heat of Nizhny Novgorod.
Goals from Harry Kane (x3), John Stones (x2) and Jesse Lingard did the damage, but what else did we learn from a result that guarantees England’s place in the World Cup last 16?
England are a well-coached unit
Generally, what we see at international tournaments such as this is the system that a manager operates in order to get the best out of the players, but also to serve the team as a whole. Argentina, for example, are not a well-coached team – they have plenty of individual attacking talent but they are a mess tactically.
England are like Portugal in many ways, insofar as they have a player like Harry Kane to elevate them while the rest of the team behind him goes about their business. There was plenty here to suggest that Gareth Southgate’s vision and game plans are being played out how he would like, from the diagonal balls to the off-the-ball movement and confident impetus.
The best example of this was probably in the third goal, a brilliantly-worked free kick that dotted around to several players before John Stones found the net.
Panama’s overly physical approach was no match for England’s dominance
From the get-go, it was easy to see what Panama’s game plan was. They were never going to be able to go toe-to-toe with England so they would attempt to strong-arm them into submission and rattle them – similar to their approach to the Belgium match but with that bit more bit.
Unfortunately for them, it backfired as the referee wasn’t having any of it. Giving away two penalties in the first half was a sure sign that this was not going to pay off for them – and without that, they had little else. Trying to shut up shop and get ten behind the ball was the end result of Plan A failing to pay off, and their limitations were ruthlessly exposed by an England side that they had only served to rile up early on.
That sense of organisation will be key to defeating Belgium
Ostensibly, Belgium have better individual players; the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne are absolute superstars and walk into most starting elevens at this World Cup. England, by contrast, do have Harry Kane but his supporting cast of Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard aren’t at the level of the Red Devils.
However, there are question marks regarding Roberto Martinez’s tactics, and those haven’t yet been answered against what was notably inferior opposition in Panama and Tunisia. De Bruyne and Axel Witsel haven’t been dominating the midfield and one gets the sense that Southgate could outsmart him tactically if it comes to it – and the trio of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard could be in a position to control the centre of the pitch if Martinez doesn’t change it up.
Harry Kane will make it his mission to win the Golden Boot
At this stage, there is little doubt that Harry Kane’s raison d’être – the business with taking the goal from Christian Eriksen last season confirmed that – but that’s not a bad thing. One of Kane’s greatest strengths is that his confidence never dips – if his first shot doesn’t go in, it doesn’t shake the belief that the next one will go in, and so on. It’s machine-like in a way, and it’s how he has remained so prolific.
Make no mistake, Kane wants the Golden Boot. Losing the Premier League award to Mo Salah will only have enhanced that, and he will fight tooth and nail with Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo to ensure that he brings that trophy home. After today’s hat-trick he has five for the tournament, so it’s hard to bet against him right now – especially if England go far into the competition.
That sense of determination may become a problem if he starts shooting when passing would be the better option, but let that bridge be crossed when it is reached.
England top the group, but a draw against Belgium might still not be enough to stay there
A 6-0 win, which is what England were heading towards before Felipe Baloy’s late consolation, would have been enough to see Southgate’s man climb above Belgium on goal difference going into the final round of matches later this week.
As it is now, they are still ahead of Belgium in the group but a draw might not be enough for them to stay there. They are even right now in terms of goal difference and goals scored, with England’s fewer yellow cards total keeping Southgate’s side above their European rivals. Provided they receive fewer yellow cards than Belgium iu their final match (and assuming they don’t lose), they will stay there.
Whether that even turns out to be a positive or a negative remains to be seen, however, as groups F and H are remarkably open right now and determining possible last 16 (and quarter-final) opponents would be a tall order.