NIZHNY NOVGOROD: Harry Kane became the third England player to score a hat-trick at the World Cup finals as the Three Lions easily secured their place in the second round with a game to spare by despaching newcomers Panama 6-1 in Nizhny Novgorod.
England’s captain became the leading scorer in the finals and thus matched the feat of Geoff Hurst in the 1966 final and Gary Lineker against Poland in 1986.
Victory lifted England level with Belgium on goals and goal difference at the top of Group G and the two teams contest top spot on Thursday. Both are certain of progress to the second round but if they draw in Kaliningrad then they will continue to have identical records and will have to be separated on yellow cards. England have two, Belgium have three.
Panama and Tunisia have been eliminated with a game remaining.
Manager Gareth Southgate’s men did not play particularly well but they played well enough against awkward, physical opponents and thus began a World Cup with two successive wins for the first time since 2006. England’s victory was their sixth in a row and extended their unbeaten run to 12 matches.
Panama, who wasted two early chances, spoiled England’s chances of topping the group with a late goal from Baloy.
Kane said: “I am so proud of the boys. We have been working on set pieces and working on the way we play and it is all coming together. Fantastic to be through and to do it this way is brilliant.
Reason to believe
“We are enjoying it and we have to keep it going, not get ahead of ourselves. There is a long way to go, a lot of hard work but we just have to stick to our game plan. You have to believe.”
The Canaleros might have opened the scoring in the fourth minute but Anibal Godoy, clear in space, sliced his shot wide of Jordan Pickford’s goal. England responded by forcing the first corner of the game and scoring from it. Kieran Trippier’s kick was headed home by the unmarked John Stones.
Edgar Barcenas was narrowly off target with a curling shot for Panama before England took decisive command. Kane converted his first penalty after Jessie Lingard was brought down by Fidel Escobar and Ramon Torres then Lingard scored a fine goal himself after cutting in from the left and exchanging passes with Raheem Sterling.
Centre back Stones headed his own second goal after Kane pushed the ball across goal after a beautifully worked free kick and the captain scored England’s fifth from another spot kick after he was bundled over. Kane knew nothing about the second-half goal which brought his hat-trick, a shot from Ruben Loftus-Cheek deflecting off him and beyond keeper Penedo.
At that point England were top of the group on goal difference but they were pushed back to second place after 37-year-old Felipe Baloy stretched to connect with a left-wing free kick.