Nizhniy Novgorod (Russia) (AFP) – Harry Kane struck a hat-trick as England demolished Panama 6-1 on Sunday to ease into the World Cup last 16 alongside Group G rivals Belgium.
Kane, who now has five goals in Russia, leapfrogged 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 — 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 heat of Nizhny Novogrod.
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 was then taken off by Gareth Southgate, who was looking to preserve the energy of his captain with tougher challenges ahead.
Felipe Baloy, 37, scored the first goal ever for Panama at a World Cup to narrow the gap but it could not mask the vast gulf in quality between the two sides.
– ‘Enjoy this’ –
“I’m very proud. Not many players get to score a hat-trick in the World Cup,” said Kane, who is only the third 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 the ruthlessness of his side.
“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.
– Mane threat –
In other games on Sunday, Japan can all but guarantee a place in the second round if they follow up their surprise opening defeat of Colombia by beating Senegal in Group H.
The Asian giants have vowed to take an aggressive approach against Senegal, who are spearheaded by Liverpool forward Sadio Mane.
Japan coach Akira Nishino said his team planned to mark Mane closely in Yekaterinburg.
“I am sure we can deal with him but with the contribution that Mane can make, it might be possible to mark him one on one or even three on one,” Nishino said.
“It is possible to stop him but the trouble is that he has influence too on other players, and that is what we are concerned about.”
Nishino said he had encouraged his team to chase victory in the second half against Colombia in their first game, and would adopt a similar approach against Senegal.
Poland and Colombia round off the second round of group matches in the late game in Kazan, both knowing they dare not lose if they want to retain any realistic hope of progressing.
Colombia coach Jose Pekerman has hinted that 2014 Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez could start against the Poles, who were beaten by Senegal in their opening game.
Rodriguez has been bothered by a calf injury which meant he started on the bench against Japan, but Pekerman indicated he may be ready to face Poland.
“His appearance off the bench last time out gave him some confidence,” Pekerman said.
“We’ve had to fine-tune a few little details but he’s been working hard in recent days and we’re hoping he’ll be 100 percent.”
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 a dramatic Saturday in Sochi.
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.”