These are still early days in the campaigns of many a World Cup contender but few have seized the opportunity to set down early markers like the two qualifiers from Group G.
In England and Gareth Southgate, here’s a team which won the opening two games of its campaign and scored six goals past the North American minnows Panama, putting them to the sword.
The scoreline was reflective of the gap between the two teams and although history has never been kind to England and their early tournament expectations, the 6-1 win over Panama added to the air of cautious optimism around the camp.
Panama, to their credit, had troubled the Belgians in their World Cup bow, ultimately losing 3-0 but keeping the Red Devils quiet for the first half, only for the deadlock to be broken by a superlative strike from Dries Mertens.
They had lost steam towards the end of the game but England’s struggles against Tunisia in a laboured 2-1 win would not have escaped their attention. In the past, a second game of the tournament akin to this, especially one against a debutant, had the right makings to turn into a potential banana skin for England.
If the Tunisia win had shown that this team could scrap for wins, Sunday’s showing was a huge boost of confidence for Southgate that his men could act and play as favourites when being branded as such.
Despite the perils of reading too much into such an one-sided performance, the job by captain Harry Kane and his men was a professional one and well-executed. Dele Alli’s unavailability meant that Ruben Loftus-Cheek received a deserved start.
Kane scored the easiest international hat-trick that he is ever likely to bag, as John Stones finished with two to his name.
It was the Manchester City defender who got the ball rolling with a bullet header that flew past Penedo. Panama’s marking of Stones from a Kieran Trippier corner was lax and it wasn’t the last time that England would benefit from a corner.
Trippier, the corner taker had another superb game going forward, creating a lot of chances, free from the shackles of defending thanks to his side’s early goal. In a three centre-back system, the onus to track back will not be as high as at Tottenham, but Trippier was happy to roam down the right and put crosses in.
The minnows let the occasion get to them as they struggled for fluency as England tightened their grip on the game. They conceded two penalties in the first half and Kane was on hand to gleefully dispatch them.
Jesse Lingard, one of England’s main men and a rising influence on the team, produced the moment of the match when he cut in from the left and let a curler fly in from range. The Manchester United man is quite inexplicably, turning into a force behind Kane and the driver of their attacking quartet.
England also became the fifth team to score five goals in a World Cup half. The second half started in the same vein as the first as Ruben Loftus-Cheek shot from distance and Kane didn’t know much about the deflection, but he claimed the goal and he had his hat-trick.
The newcomers though finally scored a goal when Jordan Pickford was beaten by a Felipe Baloy finish and as they became the 74th nation to score at a World Cup, the celebrations that followed were a sight to behold.
It finished 6-1 and though it is a little premature to declare it as the start of a new era, it will send renewed hope coursing through this young English team. Southgate for his part, will do his best to keep his men’s eyes on the prize, with Belgium up next.
With the Red Devils strength in depth, he will know that this will be their first real test against a fellow contender and an important one for his fringe players should he opt for wholescale changes. That game, and not this facile win, will define the bets on new England and their fresh approach.