World Cup – Panama 1 – 6 England: Five things we learnt

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Alasdair Hooper takes a look at what’s working and what needs work for the Three Lions heading into their final group match vs joint Group G leaders Belgium. 

Even after a couple of double takes it still doesn’t seem entirely real – England just won a World Cup game 6-1.

Considering the Three Lions have managed to put away five goals at the last two World Cups combined, Sunday afternoon’s rout of Panama has sent the nation wild.

Expectations were low coming into the tournament but fans are now riding a wave of elation that they have not experienced for quite some time.

Kicking off England’s biggest ever win at a World Cup was Manchester City defender John Stones who headed home the opener after just eight minutes.

Harry Kane added a second, with a firecracker of a penalty, before Jesse Lingard curled in a beautiful third to raise decibel levels in pubs across the land to an ear-splitting level.

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Five minutes before half time Stones grabbed himself a second before Panama’s ‘unique’ defending allowed Kane to fire in a fifth from the spot.

The second half saw Kane complete his hat-trick – though the finish was as far from orthodox as you can realistically be – and Panama grabbed a consolation in the 78th minute.

In a match far removed from the tense Tunisian encounter less than a week ago what have we learnt about Gareth Southgate’s young lions ahead of the clash against Roberto Martinez’s Belgium?

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Captain Kane lives up to the billing

On Saturday Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku became the first player to score multiple goals in successive World Cup games since a certain Diego Maradona.

A day later England captain Harry Kane matched that feat thanks to his hat-trick against Panama after his double downed the Tunisians in game one.

All of a sudden the Tottenham marksman finds himself ahead of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo to top the race for the golden boot.

He is now just the fourth English player to score a hat-trick at a major tournament joining Geoff Hurst, Gary Lineker and Jodie Taylor.

Raheem Sterling needs a goal

Rightly or wrongly Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling has emerged as the archetypal scapegoat at this tournament.

Thanks to some controversial media coverage in the run-up and a history of past misdemeanors the attacker is baring the brunt of the flak.

Even when his name was read out on the teamsheet at the start of today’s game in some pubs across the country he was booed.

Of course there is another issue Sterling has to address – his lack of goals.

For an attacker as talented as the 23-year-old his return at international level (two goals) is woefully inadequate.

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He has to find the back of the net sooner rather than later.

If he does it will go a long way to silencing the booing crowd, restoring his confidence and maintaining his place in the team with Marcus Rashford a constant threat to his inclusion in the starting XI.

Set pieces will be key

For all of the talk about this England team being quick and technically gifted a majority of the goals have come from set piece routines.

Deliveries have been accurate and the movements have been slick.

When England come up against opponents that have a bit more about them these routines will be absolutely vital in unlocking these teams.

What is up with the defence?

It’s easy to forget, considering today’s elation, that prior to Stones’ opening goal England were sloppy and the defence looked shaky.

Of course it has often been noted that the personnel the Three Lions have in the defensive roles – as well as the team’s determination to attack – often leaves them in vulnerable positions.

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But the failure to concentrate and keep a clean sheet, as well as those sloppy opening moments, certainly signals an area that must be improved on by Gareth Southgate and his staff.

Against a team with more clinical finishing that could well become England’s undoing.

Pickford nails down the number one spot

One of the big questions ahead of the tournament was who should be England’s starting goalkeeper.

With Joe Hart removed from the picture it became a straight shootout between Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland.

The Everton keeper got the nod, in part because of his distribution ability, but he has not disappointed since he was given the starting berth.

The 24-year-old has risen to the occasion and his passing has been as we would expect.

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However, today – in a game where there wasn’t a whole lot to do – he showed that his concentration remained on point as he stood strong to make a save from Michael Murillo in the second half.

He may not have the clean sheet that he undoubtedly wants in this tournament yet but England know they have a reliable stopper between the sticks.

Follow Alasdair on Twitter – @adjhooper1992

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