Eng­land shrug off Panama’s wrestling an­tics


Yorkshire Post - Sports Monday - - FOOTBALL - Leon Wob­schall ■ Email: leon.wob­schall@ypn.co.uk ■ Twit­ter: @LeonWobYP

FOR­EVER as­so­ci­ated with the area where Eng­land faced Panama, Rus­sian writer Maxim Gorky’s most fa­mous work was a dark and brood­ing play en­ti­tled The Lower Depths.

A draw – or per­ish the thought a de­feat – for Eng­land in Nizhny Novogrod, for­merly known as Gorky in homage to the ac­claimed word­smith, would have seen the wave of op­ti­mism cir­cu­lat­ing the coun­try re­placed by a tsunami of pes­simism yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

We need not have wor­ried. In the event it was one of those rarest of beasts for the Three Lions: a serene and stress-free World Cup af­ter­noon in the sum­mer sun by the Volga against an op­po­nent who were pul­verised.

Eng­land it­self is pre­par­ing for a heat­wave this week, but the mer­cury has al­ready risen sharply among the na­tions sup­port cour­tesy of a ruth­less, ma­jes­tic – if some­what bizarre – 6-1 rout­ing of poor, poor Panama.

Never mind Gorky’s The Lower Depths, this was all about a foot­ball team be­ing out of their depth.

A coun­try whose most revered sports­man is leg­endary boxer Roberto Du­ran, whose nick­name was Hands of Stone, Panama’s foot­ballers sup­pos­edly had a rep­u­ta­tion for hang­ing tough.

Eight clean sheets in 16 World Cup qual­i­fiers pro­vided sta­tis­ti­cal ev­i­dence of just that and it was also show­cased in a doughty first half in their opener against Bel­gium be­fore class even­tu­ally told.

As for yes­ter­day the Pana­ma­ni­ans showed their prow­ess at wrestling as op­posed to box­ing in a scarcely be­liev­able and bru­tal first half that saw them con­cede two penal­ties, for brain­lessly at­tempt­ing to swap shirts with their op­po­nents, and ship five goals in a night­mare open­ing 45 min­utes.

The de­fend­ing was ut­terly hap­less, but the cut­ting edge and mer­ci­less first-half fin­ish­ing dis­played from those in white was to be wholly ad­mired. It was Teu­tonic in its ef­fi­ciency with Eng­land forc­ing the record books to be dusted down at half-time.

Sec­ond group games at World Cups for Eng­land had pre­vi­ously pro­vided in­stances of the good, the bad and the ugly.

For the good who can for­get David Beck­ham’s cathar­tic penalty against Ar­gentina in Sap­poro in 2002 or Paul Gas­coigne burst­ing onto the World Cup stage with a mes­meric show against the Dutch in Cagliari in 1990? Then there was that sub­lime save from Gor­don Banks in Leon in 1970.

Plenty of the bad too, in­clud­ing a crush­ing de­feat to Luis Suarezin­spired Uruguay un­der slate- grey Sáo Paulo skies four years ago.

The plain ugly? Try a ran­cid goal­less draw against the Moroc­cans in Mon­ter­rey in 1986 – when the late Ray Wilkins was dis­missed – and a thor­oughly des­per­ate stale­mate with Al­ge­ria in Cape Town back in 2010, a strong con­tender for the worst Eng­land game in liv­ing mem­ory.

This was the spec­tac­u­lar, more es­pe­cially in the first half.

The stage may have com­pre­hen­sively been too much for Panama, but this will be a game no one of an English per­sua­sion will ever for­get as Eng­land em­u­lated their feats of 1982 and 2006 in win­ning their first two group games at a World Cup fi­nals.

Within it were some fine in­di­vid­ual ac­com­plish­ments. For Barns­ley’s John Stones there was the hon­our of be­ing the first York­shire­man to score for Eng­land at a World Cup fi­nals since Don­cas­trian Ron Flow­ers, born in the pit vil­lage of Edling­ton, net­ted in the 3-1 win over Ar­gentina at the fi­nals in Chile in 1962.

Harry Kane was also clearly scent­ing Flow­ers and be­came the sec­ond English­man to score in each of his first two World Cup games since the ex-Wolves mid­fielder did just that 56 years ago.

The af­ter­noon ended with the Spurs for­ward join­ing an­other se­lect Eng­land gath­er­ing in em­u­lat­ing Sir Ge­off Hurst and Gary Lineker in scor­ing a hat-trick at a World Cup fi­nals.

He also be­came the first player to score a hat-trick and a brace in con­sec­u­tive World Cup games since 1986. A fact sup­plied on so­cial me­dia by the pre­vi­ous player to do that: Gary Win­ston Lineker.

The fact that Kane re­fused to milk the mo­ment af­ter ex­it­ing the stage shortly af­ter un­wit­ting- ly net­ting his third and Eng­land’s sixth on 62 min­utes per­haps said every­thing about the fact that he and his team-mates knew they were fac­ing no or­di­nary World Cup-class op­po­nent and that big­ger, much big­ger, tests will come.

But you beat what is in front of you. In their last game against sim­i­lar-sized op­po­nents in Stutt- gart in 2006 Eng­land’s ‘ golden gen­er­a­tion’ laboured to a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago. Here there was far more kudos. The only thing miss­ing was a goal for Ra­heem Ster­ling, with the shirt still seem­ingly a touch heavy.

Less so for Stones. His eighth­minute headed opener was a gem and the sight of him notch­ing a sec­ond be­fore the break added to the sense of in­credulity. The half also wit­nessed a beauty from Jesse Lin­gard, a goal he will re­call with fond­ness in the years to come.

Given events in the first half there was al­ways likely to be a drop-off. Kane had his mo­ment, as did Panama when 37-year-old Felipe Baloy hit a con­so­la­tion that brought one piece of joy to res­i­dents in Panama City where it was rain­ing heav­ily, fit­tingly.

A tame sec­ond half in com­par­i­son, with three York­shire sub­sti­tutes in Danny Rose, Fabian Delph and Jamie Vardy un­able to in­dulge in the goal frenzy af­ter en­ter­ing the fray. But this was a case of a job done em­phat­i­cally.


THREE’S AL­LOWED: Harry Kane re­joices, top, af­ter scor­ing his sec­ond penalty against Panama. He went on to score a hat-trick with the Three Lions’ other goals com­ing from Jess Lin­gard, above left, and a brace from John Stones, who nets his sec­ond, above right.

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