England recorded their largest-ever victory in World Cup history on Sunday, demolishing Panama to reach the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.
Harry Kane scored a hat trick, John Stones scored two headers and Jesse Lingard curled home a beauty as the Three Lions ran riot in Nizhny Novgorod with their set-pieces causing Panama endless problems and England 5-0 up at half time.
But Gareth Southgate and his players are urging caution ahead of their Group G showdown against Belgium on Thursday.
[ VIDEO: England hammer Panama ]
With England and Belgium level on points, goals scored and goals conceded heading into the game, if it ends in a draw in Kaliningrad then England will top the group on “fair play points” if they don’t pick up more yellow or red cards than Belgium.
Hat trick hero and England’s skipper Harry Kane revealed England are enjoying themselves but are keen to stay grounded.
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“Fantastic. I am so, so proud of the boys. We are just enjoying it – enjoying being here,” Kane said. “We have been working on set pieces and working on the way we play and it is all coming together. Fantastic to be through and to do it this way is brilliant. We are enjoying it and we have to keep it going, not get ahead of ourselves.”
That last part is key to England making a deep run in this tournament.
Leaking a late goal against Panama may actually do them some good in terms of refocusing the group and creating a little bit of anger that they let a slight advantage slip ahead of facing Belgium.
When speaking to the media afterwards Southgate said he was a little annoyed with England’s start and finish to the game.
“At 5-0 we talked about the importance of one more goal to be top of the group, so that’s why the goal at the end was disappointing, but by the same token for everything everyone has put into it over the last few weeks it is rewarding to see how they are playing and how they are enjoying their football and I am sure everybody at home was enjoying it as well,” Southgate said. “Confidence wise it was important that we were able to score goals. Our set plays were also a threat and that was pleasing to see.
Do England want to win the group?
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With the likes of Germany struggling, they may well be better suited to finishing second in Group G behind Belgium and be on the other side of the bracket. If that happens England would face the winner of what will likely be Mexico vs. Switzerland in a quarterfinal, if they make it past Group H’s top team in their last 16 clash.
Again, all of this is getting way ahead of ourselves but England can’t afford to do that as their young squad have shown enough defensive lapses in their opening two games to suggest better teams will benefit better than Tunisia and Panama did. A fluid 3-4-3 formation has allowed England’s attacking players to flourish with Kane leading the World Cup in goals with five, but it has also seen their back three left exposed at times with both wing backs encouraged to push on.
England is safely through to the last 16 and although many will say they’ve played two weak teams so far, you can only beat what is in front of you.
Now, the real tournament begins for Southgate’s boys.