Nizhniy Novgorod (Russia) (AFP) – Harry Kane struck a hat-trick as England thrashed Panama 6-1 on Sunday to ease into the World Cup last 16 alongside group rivals Belgium.
Kane now has five goals in Russia, leapfrogging Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku in the race for the Golden Boot as the Central Americans were sent packing along with Tunisia.
Belgium and England — who meet in Kaliningrad on Thursday to battle it out for top spot in Group G — both have six points after two games and are level on goal difference and goals scored.
England recorded their biggest-ever victory at a World Cup despite the sapping heat in Nizhny Novogrod, playing with youthful zest and imagination against their disappointing opponents.
Two penalties from Kane and two goals from John Stones, plus an impressive strike from Jesse Lingard, gave England an unassailable 5-0 lead at half-time.
Kane completed his hat-trick in the 62nd minute and coach Gareth Southgate had the luxury of substituting his captain with tougher challenges ahead.
Felipe Baloy, 37, scored the first-ever goal for Panama at a World Cup to narrow the gap but it could not mask the vast gulf in quality between the two sides.
“I’m very proud. Not many players get to score a hat-trick in the World Cup,” said Kane, who is only the third England player to score three goals in a World Cup match after Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker.
“We have to enjoy this. It’s not every day we get to go through after two games.”
Southgate said he was pleased with his side’s ruthlessness.
“It was a different type of win to the other day (against Tunisia),” he said. “Then we had to go right to the wire and show qualities that are going to be really important to our resilience and sticking to our principles of play.”
Belgium hammered Tunisia 5-2 on Saturday, with two goals from both Lukaku and Eden Hazard.
– Colombia hit form –
Later Sunday, Colombia produced an impressive performance to salvage their World Cup and send Poland crashing out of the tournament with a 3-0 win thanks to goals from Radamel Falcao, Yerry Mina and Juan Cuadrado.
Colombia, quarter-finalists four years ago in Brazil, can guarantee a place in the knockout phase by beating Senegal on Thursday.
But the Poles became the first European side to be put out of contention on a hot night in Kazan when superstar Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski again failed to fire.
Senegal blew a chance to edge closer to the next phase when Japan twice came from behind to force a 2-2 draw in an entertaining game in Yekaterinburg.
Sadio Mane scored first after woeful goalkeeping from Eiji Kawashima, but Takashi Inui equalised later in the first half. In the second period Moussa Wague re-established Senegal’s lead but substitute Keisuke Honda pegged them back again.
Honda, 32, is the top-scoring Asian player in World Cup history after his fourth goal in nine appearances.
Disappointed Senegal coach Aliou Cisse said his team’s level had dipped since their opening victory over Poland.
“We must acknowledge that we didn’t see a great Senegalese performance tonight in comparison to the match against Poland,” he said.
“We were not very good frankly, and Japan were the better team, I have to admit that. But despite that fact, we led twice and what’s annoying for me is the two goals we conceded.”
World Cup holders Germany were breathing a sigh of relief after Toni Kroos’s 95th-minute missile secured a last-gasp 2-1 win over Sweden on Saturday.
But they are not out of the woods yet — to guarantee they have the chance to become the first team to successfully defend the title since Brazil in 1962, Germany must beat South Korea by a two-goal margin in Kazan.
Defender Mats Hummels said Kroos’s goal could be a turning point.
“Something like this can be a big moment in the tournament. But if we lose against South Korea or don’t make it to the next stage, the goal isn’t worth anything.”
Diego Maradona said he was “furious” with Argentina’s shambolic 3-0 defeat by Croatia and has asked to give the players a pep talk before their crucial final game against Nigeria.
“I’m furious and very upset inside, because anyone who wore that shirt can’t see it being trampled like that by a Croatian team that isn’t Germany, that isn’t Brazil, that isn’t Holland or Spain,” the 1986 World Cup winner told Venezuelan TV channel Telesur.