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ENG­LAND man­ager Gareth South­gate says he would not swap Harry Kane for any other goalscorer at the World Cup af­ter his cap­tain’s hat-trick helped se­cure a record-break­ing win and progress to the knock­out phase.

Af­ter dig­ging deep to see off Tu­nisia at the cli­max to Mon­day’s Group G opener, the Three Lions se­cured a win as im­pres­sive as it was com­pre­hen­sive in putting sham­bolic Panama to the sword in swel­ter­ing Nizhny Nov­gorod.

Eng­land’s 6-1 vic­tory was their big­gest at a ma­jor tour­na­ment and sealed progress to the last 16 with a game to spare as John Stones’s brace and a fine Jesse Lin­gard strike com­ple­mented a tre­ble by Kane.

Just the third English­man to score a hat-trick at the World Cup, it moved Kane onto five goals and the top of the Golden Boot stand­ings.

Asked about Kane’s cur­rent level in a ques­tion men­tion­ing Cris­tiano Ron­aldo and Lionel Messi, Eng­land man­ager South­gate said: “Well, clearly the stage to do that is this one. He’s started bril­liantly.

“You can dis­miss penal­ties as be­ing easy, but the length of time he had to wait be­fore tak­ing that (first one) and the num­ber of dis­trac­tions, to then keep fo­cused, start again and re­fo­cus tells you a bit about the men­tal tough­ness that he’s got.

“Look, he’s there, he’s up at the top. We wouldn’t swap him for any­one in the tour­na­ment in terms of num­ber nines.

“You know that when he gets op­por­tu­ni­ties he’s go­ing to bury them. You sit there very con­fi­dent in his abil­ity to take chances.

“But as im­por­tant in that is the way he sac­ri­fices him­self for the team in the way he presses, holds the ball up, con­trib­utes to the over­all game.

“He’s not just a player that stands up front and waits for chances and that’s im­por­tant within the ethic of the team we’re try­ing to cre­ate.”

Kane went off soon af­ter wrap­ping up his hat-trick, Eng­land’s only goal of a sec­ond half that was never likely to get near the five struck be­fore the break.

“It’s strange be­cause I en­joyed the win against Tu­nisia more be­cause of the ten­sion in it and the fact that you get over the line when you’re re­ally un­der pres­sure,” South­gate said. “It was very, very spe­cial.

“Just be­fore half-time the game was done [yes­ter­day], so it was a very, very strange feel­ing watch­ing the sec­ond half, just try­ing to en­cour­age the play­ers to keep pro­fes­sional in the way that they played and be a top team by be­ing ruth­less.

“I was pleased the cap­tain got his hat-trick be­cause it meant he had the hump less when I brought him off be­cause I know the im­por­tance for him of scor­ing goals.

“Very strange be­cause I think we prob­a­bly at times played bet­ter the other night than we have done [against Panama], but here we were re­ally ruth­less in front of goal.

“A dif­fer­ent type of chal­lenge and I know how many peo­ple have been watch­ing at home on a Sun­day af­ter­noon, so it was lovely that we could give them goals to cel­e­brate.

“I think they can see what we’re try­ing to do and the way we’re try­ing to play and that the play­ers are en­joy­ing their foot­ball.

“You don’t get many op­por­tuni- ties to play in a game like that for Eng­land.”

Kane says he will re­sist any temp­ta­tion to rest against Bel­gium on Thurs­day as he con­tin­ues to chase the World Cup golden boot.

South­gate may be tempted to let his prize as­set take a breather in Kalin­ingrad, par­tic­u­larly as sec­ond place in the group may of­fer a sim­pler knock­out route than first, but Kane is keep­ing his eyes on the prize.

“That’s his de­ci­sion, I guess, but ob­vi­ously I want to play,” said the 24-year-old, who has twice fin­ished as the Pre­mier League’s lead­ing marks­man.

“I want to con­tinue the form I’m in, but what­ever de­ci­sion the gaffer makes we’ll get be­hind. There is a big­ger pic­ture.

“The most im­por­tant thing is al­ways win­ning games, and if my goals help my team win then that’s the per­fect sit­u­a­tion. There’s a long way to go and a lot of good play­ers just be­hind me [on the list]. Hope­fully I can just con­tinue and take it into Thurs­day’s game.”

Eng­land cur­rently top the stand­ings on the slen­der­est of mar­gins. With the same num­ber of points as Bel­gium and an iden­ti­cal num­ber of goals scored and con­ceded, a soli­tary yel­low card splits the teams on dis­ci­plinary grounds.

Kane, though, is not in­ter­ested in sec­ond place and would rather keep the win­ning feel­ing in­tact re­gard­less of the path it leaves.

“It’s im­por­tant we fin­ish top,” he said.

He’s not just a player that stands up front and waits for chances.

Man­ager Gareth South­gate, on Eng­land cap­tain Harry Kane’s work ethic.

ENG­LAND’S ex­plo­sive first half “fright­ened” Panama and left head coach Her­nan Dario Gomez fear­ing one of the big­gest de­feats in World Cup his­tory.

Nizhny Nov­gorod bore wit­ness to a spe­cial af­ter­noon for the Three Lions as Harry Kane’s hat­trick, John Stones’s brace and a su­perb ef­fort from Jesse Lin­gard se­cured this win and progress to the last-16.

Gareth South­gate’s men se­cured Eng­land’s big­gest World Cup fi­nals win and had scored five by half-time, leav­ing Panama boss Gomez fear­ing just how bad things could get as Eng­land com­fort­ably dealt with their rough­house tac­tics.

“Well, I think that the dif­fer­ence of goals could have been more – we could have ac­tu­ally con­ceded more goals,” he said.

“As to our foot­ball, we’ve tried to play against Eng­land, but there’s a huge dif­fer­ence be­tween our two teams.

“To con­cede five goals in the first half, two penal­ties, two set­pieces, where Eng­land were very, very ef­fec­tive, well, what we did was try to avoid a big­ger catas­tro­phe.

“We man­aged to keep the ball in the sec­ond half a lit­tle bit more and we kept play­ing in an or­derly fash­ion be­cause had we not done that it wouldn’t have been six goals but far more.”

Gomez had no qualms about the two penal­ties Eng­land were awarded in the first half of a match, with the Los Canaleros boss say­ing his side “are vir­gins, we have been born be­fore the due date”.

“We wanted a 0-0 in the first half, it would have been OK to have a 1-1,” the Panama coach added.

“But we were feel­ing rather fright­ened at half-time be­cause of the huge dif­fer­ence be­tween us and Eng­land, and also Bel­gium.

“We have learned a lot at this World Cup so far. We’ve drawn a lot of con­clu­sions, but Panama are a small, young child in foot­ball, other teams don’t re­ally de­ci­pher our style of play.

“There was three or four goalscor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties where we could have scored, but we didn’t fin­ish prop­erly, and Eng­land came to our box seven times and scored six.”

Sub­sti­tute Felipe Baloy made his­tory by be­come the first Pana­ma­nian player to score at a World Cup at the end of a sec­ond half that be­gun with Gomez mak­ing a bee­line for the Eng­land dugout to speak to Eng­land man­ager South­gate.

“I con­grat­u­lated him,” the Panama boss said with a smile. “I told him that I re­ally like his team, Eng­land, and I said, ‘Look, we’re go­ing to play cool and calm now’.

“I tried dur­ing half-time to tell my play­ers to be more com­posed, to play foot­ball in an or­derly fash­ion, so I con­grat­u­lated South­gate.

“I’ve had to play against two spec­tac­u­lar op­po­nents, Bel­gium and Eng­land, but this is ab­so­lutely fan­tas­tic be­cause that is how you learn, draw con­clu­sions and can tell where your team is.

“I think Eng­land are to­tally spec­tac­u­lar – a beau­ti­ful team.”

High praise in­deed. Things fi­nally ap­pear to be look­ing up for an Eng­land side who were hu­mil­i­ated by Ice­land at Euro 2016 and elim­i­nated with a group game to spare at the 2014 World Cup.

The Three Lions’ win was as com­pre­hen­sive as it was im­pres­sive, set­ting up an in­trigu­ing shoot-out with Bel­gium for top spot on Thurs­day.

Af­ter dis­play­ing their char­ac­ter to seal a last-gasp win against Tu­nisia, Eng­land kept a cool head to deal with Panama’s rough- house tac­tics in swel­ter­ing Nizhny Nov­gorod, em­phat­i­cally adding the clin­i­cal edge South­gate had called for af­ter Mon­day’s game.

Stones headed home his first two in­ter­na­tional goals in an open­ing pe­riod that saw Kane smash home two spot-kicks and Lin­gard curl home from the edge of the penalty area.

Eng­land made light work of a Panama side fo­cused on un­set­tling rather than out­play­ing them, with cap­tain Kane be­com­ing his coun­try’s third player to score a World Cup fi­nals hat-trick when the ball went in off him early in the sec­ond half.

Baloy made his­tory late on, but it did not take the edge off a vic­tory to cher­ish – just the third time the Three Lions had won their open­ing two World Cup games.

Panama got what they de­served for a piti­ful dis­play against an Eng­land side show­ing just one change, de­spite as­sis­tant Steve Hol­land’s train­ing notes sug­gest­ing oth­er­wise.

Gabriel Gomez’s el­bow on Lin­gard within two min­utes gave South­gate’s side an in­di­ca­tion of the brutish chal­lenge fac­ing them.

Panama’s tac­tics cost them in the eighth minute. Kane was dragged to the deck from a cor­ner as they em­ployed grap­pling tech­niques of which UFC fight­ers would be proud, but Her­nan Dario Gomez’s side for­got to mark Stones and the Manch­ester City cen­tre-back headed home his first in­ter­na­tional goal.

Next Kieran Trip­pier, again im­press­ing at right-back, clipped a lovely ball to Lin­gard who was bun­dled to the deck by Fidel Es­co­bar and Kane’s penalty strike into the top cor­ner could hardly have been sweeter.

Lin­gard added a sump­tu­ous third, col­lect­ing a loose ball in the 36th minute and play­ing a smart one-two with Ra­heem Ster­ling be­fore bend­ing home an out­stand­ing ef­fort.

A smart set-piece rou­tine saw Jor­dan Hen­der­son clip a first-time ball over to Kane, whose header across goal was met by Ster­ling. When his ini­tial ef­fort was stopped, Stones was on hand to net.

With half-time ap­proach­ing Eng­land be­came the fifth team in World Cup his­tory to score five or more in the open­ing pe­riod. Kane was dragged to the deck by Godoy and took de­light in fir­ing home the re­sult­ing spot-kick.

In the sec­ond half Ruben Lof­tus-Cheek, in for the in­jured Dele Alli, had a shot that went in off Kane’s heel, with the VAR giv­ing the green light for that hat-trick af­ter check­ing for off­side.

But Panama made his­tory, when Baloy slid in to di­rect home a free-kick.


ONE INTO TWO: Eng­land cap­tain Harry Kane scores from the penalty spot to dou­ble his side’s lead dur­ing their win over Panama in Nizhny Nov­gorod. He went on to score a hat-trick as Eng­land won 6-1.


COM­ING OUT ON TOP: Panama’s Michael Amir Murillo rises above Eng­land’s Jor­dan Pick­ford and John Stones. Eng­land lost this bat­tle but were over­whelm­ing over­all win­ners with Stones, inset sec­ond right, scor­ing twice in the 6-1 win.

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