World Cup: England shrug off Panama’s wrestling antics to win with ease

England's Jesse Lingard scores the pick of his side's six goals as they overwhelmed Panama at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium (Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire).
England's Jesse Lingard scores the pick of his side's six goals as they overwhelmed Panama at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium (Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire).
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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 Suarez-inspired 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 unwittingly 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 Stuttgart 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 eighth-minute 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.