June 25, 2018

Horse 2428 - Panama's House Burns Down Because Harry Kane Is On Fire

England 6 - Panama 1
Stones - 8'
Kane - 21' (pen)
Lingard - 35' 
Stones - 41'
Kane - 46' (pen)
Kane - 60'
Baloy  - 78'

The perennial problem with being an England fan is that the default position is one of pessimism which is based on years of evidence. Be the sport Cricket, Rugby, World Wars, Empire, or Football, the lot of an England fan is to look back to a time when England was for a brief moment the World Champion and then how currently they always fail to deliver.
Every new generation of England players is a golden generation and because England fans have deliberate four year amnesia, they always think that it will be the year: it never is. England will put in performances which are "plucky", have "the heart of a lion" and the "spirit of '66" and will crash out in the quarter finals in an act of either controversy or hopeless inadequacy.
So when a result like this comes along, it is so extraordinary that England fans literally have no idea what to do. Since the default position is one where they expect to lose, there is no playbook for this. This is joy which almost immediately butts up against the question "now what?"

England was expected to win or draw against Panama. Panama was playing at their first World Cup and sides like that generally punch above their weight because they have no fear of their opposition. Panama started against England at full pelt but it soon became hideously apparent that the distance between the two sides was as wide as the Atlantic Ocean which physically separates the two countries.

England spent the first few minutes held back by Panama but very quickly found that they could take the ball away from them. This led to an opening period of England pressing at the 18 yard box and then they won a corner.
Trippier  delivered a fairly routine corner kick which should have been dealt with but it was met with John Stones' head and swiftly delivered to the back of the net.

In response to England's opening goal, Panama appeared to step up a gear and very nearly equalised  when Barcanas took a shot at the quarter hour mark, which Jordan Pickford at full stretch still missed, but sadly for Panama, also sailed past the outside of the post. Panama kind of grew in confidence after this but not in skill and at the other end of the field, on a push forward by Lingard, both Torres and Escobar pushed him forward and into the ground. This went to the VAR for a decision; which I can only imagine was to work out which one was actually at fault.
Harry Kane, the hero of the opening match duly stood up to the penalty spot and fired a rocket of a shot which may as well have had cosmonauts on board.

Not content with a two goal lead, England kept on pressing to close out the match and continual niggling from the Panamanians which might have gone unpunished in a CONCACAF qualifier, was not tolerated by this World Cup referee. Raheem Sterling drove deep into the six yard box but was met with a wall of red shirts and passed it away to Lingard who made good on the hope placed in him.

From here though, Panama fell into disciplinary problems and the referee was forced to start handing out cards as though he was the dealer at the casino. One free kick was conceded about 35 yards away from goal and a small huddle formed as the England players worked out their set piece. Trippier's free kick crossed to the far side of the box, where Jordan Henderson turned in back in towards Sterling and Kane who both missed but John Stones was on hand to clean up the loose ball and drive it home for England's fourth.

The last time that England had scored four goals at the World Cup was all the way back in 1966 in the Final, and already the television commentary had turned into its inevitable amnesia, as the commentators started talking about going all the way. Even my jaded expectations were confused when during yet another corner, Godoy held Kane in a submission hold and Escobar held John Stone as though he were the pillion passenger on the back of a motorbike. The referee saw both and decided to ping Escobar for the offence  and Harry Kane was again called up to the penalty spot, which he again put away; in extra time.

At 5-0 at half time, England had now moved into uncharted territory at a World Cup, and already Harry Kane had made himself a possible candidate for the tournament's golden boot. Panama on the other hand must have had a team talk which was either expletive laden or quite dejected because after the break, they didn't play as fiercely as before; neither did England.

Ten minutes into the second half, Ruben Loftus-Cheek took a hopeful shot which caught the heel of none other than Harry Kane who might have been off-side but the VAR deliberated and awarded him with his hat-trick. At 6-0 up, it was only then that the tempo kind of died down.

At six goals down, Panama were obviously never going to win but they still needed to salvage some kind of consolation from the match. Murillo pushed forward but was met by Pickford standing solid and firm and the deflection was cleared. Ramon Torres had a shot in the 75th minute which defied everyone but still wouldn't trouble the goal.
Their breakthrough came in the 78th minute when Avila won a free kick and was able to avoid complete humiliation when Baloy met the ball with his head, to score Panama's first ever goal at a World Cup proper. Maybe England are fragile against set pieces but when you're already on a record number of goals in a match, nobody seemed too worried.

The remaining twelve minutes sort of trickled away as though this was all a strange and wonderful dream. England had only won its opening two group games at a World Cup in 1982 and 1990; and whatever the result in the third game, against Belgium, is, they are already through to the round of sixteen.
If I was England manager Gareth Southgate, I would replace all eleven players from this match with the eleven players who haven't yet started in this tournament. If nothing else, it gives you an opportunity to see how they'd fare at this World Cup. I think that as a player, I would be really hacked off at traveling to a World Cup and not getting a start. England have bought themselves this luxury and I see no reason not to enjoy it.

If I wasn't already invested in this World Cup, I am now. However, I am not so naïve as to think that it all won't go horribly wrong. This is England: three world wars (two hot; one cold), one World Cup (doo dah), and a team that hasn't won any tournament since Harold Wilson was Prime Minister. If we forget our amnesia, then hopeless inadequacy is only a free kick away.

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