England recorded their biggest win at a World Cup to overwhelm Panama and secure a place in the last 16 before their final Group G game with Belgium.
Harry Kane played a captain’s role once more with a hat-trick to become the tournament’s leading scorer, as England built on their opening victory against Tunisia with an impressive show of ruthlessness and quality.
John Stones opened the scoring with an early header before Kane added the second with a thunderous penalty after Jesse Lingard had been fouled.
Lingard added the third in the 36th minute with a brilliant curling effort from 25 yards and, as Panama crumbled, Stones crowned a slick set-piece routine by heading his second and Kane made it 5-0 before half-time with another penalty after he was wrestled to the ground.
Kane completed his treble with a fortunate deflection from Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot after the break, before Panama’s noisy supporters were able to celebrate their first goal at a World Cup through Felipe Baloy.
The margin of victory for England topped 3-0 wins over Poland and Paraguay in Mexico in 1986, and against Denmark in 2002.
England top Group G as they have fewer yellow cards than Belgium. If they draw the final game it will go down to disciplinary records to decide who finishes first – and if that is level lots will be drawn.
England’s opening win over Tunisia contained one serious flaw that needed correcting – namely a lack of ruthlessness and clinical edge in front of goal.
As Panama were totally dismantled, the failing was addressed and then some as a place in the last-16 stage was secured in quick-fire fashion.
Strangely, England had actually made a subdued and sloppy start before Stones powered in Kieran Trippier’s corner to put them ahead. It was plain sailing from then on.
Southgate’s side sparkled in Nizhny Novgorod, pace and movement mixed with flashes of individual brilliance such as Lingard’s goal to reduce Panama to an ill-disciplined shambles.
When they get it right, England have the firepower to trouble any team, with captain Kane a spearhead approaching world class.
They also showed commendable first-half discipline to avoid getting involved in Panama’s ham-fisted physical approach, simply letting the inevitable take its course in the hands of Egyptian referee Ghead Grisha, who was determined to punish penalty-area transgressions.
England inevitably eased off with the game and that place in the last 16 no longer in doubt, and of course greater tests lie ahead. But this was the sort of commanding performance that will do wonders for confidence as the World Cup reaches the knockout stage.