England went into this match the favourites, buoyed by a victory over Tunisia on the 18th June, but even with these boosts to an already confident team, not even they could have predicted quite how thoroughly England would beat the Panamanian national side.
The First Half
Panama went into the game with the warning to England that they would be playing ‘hard’, with Jesse Lingard taking an elbow to the face in the opening minutes. Not deterred however, the unsung hero of the match against Tunisia, Kieran Trippier, continued creating chances for the strikers. With a well placed corner kick from Trippier, it was the work of but a moment for Man City’s John Stones to head it past the Panamanian keeper for his first World Cup goal.
— England (@England) June 24, 2018
From then on the England team couldn’t keep the ball out of the net. Lingard was the target of another overly aggressive tackle, and Harry Kane continued his campaign for the Golden Boot with a masterfully executed conversion into the top left hand corner.
Not long after that, and in a form of almost karmic retribution for his early game attraction to Panamanian studs, Jesse Lingard sunk the third with an artful looping kick over much of the opposition defence.
— England (@England) June 24, 2018
If any goal has exemplified Gareth Southgate’s approach to playing, it was England’s fourth, scored in the 40th minute yet again by John Stones. Prior to the free kick, the team huddled up and the English fans knew they were in for a bit of magic. From the free kick, the ball made it’s way through 4 members of the England squad, and as Raheem Sterling was forced to pull out of the ‘final’ header to avoid a kick to the head, John Stones was there to follow up the parried shot to make it 4-0. A creative, confident set piece, backed up by solid teamwork when things didn’t go quite to plan, we can’t wait to see what England have up their sleeves for the rest of the tournament.
The fifth (I know, I can’t believe it either) goal of the first half felt like justice for England fans. Kane will always be the danger man on the England squad, and the other teams know it. As such he became the target of some pretty egregious tackles and grappling in the box when England faced Tunisia, which for some reason weren’t picked up by the referee or VAR. A similar thing occurred this game when Anibal Godoy wrapped his arms around Kane, bringing him to the ground; yet this time the proper penalties were awarded, and Harry Kane had the opportunity to put another clinical kick past the goalkeeper to make it 5-0.
The Second Half
As the second half began, the energy of the England side dropped as the brutal temperatures in the stadium began to take effect, but that didn’t stop England putting a goal away. Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek made a weak shot at goal and it may well have gone in, but with a deflection off Harry Kane’s heel, the ball span decisively off into the left-hand side of the net. We might say it was intentional, if he didn’t look so surprised.
The rest of the half saw a number of substitutions, including Kane coming off for Leicester’s Jamie Vardy. Although it was good to see Southgate resting key players ahead of Thursday’s match-up against Belgium, and other members of the squad getting to stretch their legs in the tournament before the tougher knock-out stages, the energy and fun from the first half couldn’t be matched. The main moment of excitement came as Felipe Beloy slid to meet a corner from Ricardo Avila, giving Panama their first ever World Cup goal. Despite this momentary hiccup, England held out for the rest of the match, and come the final whistle England had qualified for the knock out stages, and now sit level with Belgium on both points and goal difference.
What can Gareth Southgate learn and what does this game mean for Spurs players?
Southgate has clearly been making notes and improvements following the games against Nigeria, Costa Rica and Tunisia. The set pieces are clean, the pace is quick and the team work is comprehensive; an argument can be made that this ‘just’ Panama, but that shouldn’t take away from the obvious time and energy the team have been putting in to getting their game as good as it can be.
Although this game secures them a place in the next stage of the competition, the team cannot afford to rest on their laurels; putting up a second rate team against Belgium will ruin the confidence and momentum developed over the previous few games. However, there is little evidence to suggest that is will be the case. Southgate made a number of substitutions once this game was secure, including resting Kane, to ensure key player are fit for Thursday, and Dele Alli was kept out of the game altogether to rest a thigh injury.
The other major Spurs player in this match was Kieran Trippier, who continued his run of good form providing chances and support to the rest of the team. I would be surprised if we don’t see him on the team sheet come Thursday.
With 2 comfortable wins under their belts, England and its fans should be going into Thursdays pivotal match against Belgium with cautious optimism. Southgate’s team has been performing well, and what he’s been putting forward has been working. However, they have only faced inexperienced teams so far, so the next test against Belgium is sure to set the stage for the tournament moving forward, as the competition is only going to get harder.