Gareth Southgate insisted he would not swap Harry Kane for any other player at the World Cup after the striker scored a hat-trick as England thrashed Panama 6-1.
England’s captain became the tournament’s top scorer with his fifth goal in two games on a hot afternoon in Nizhny Novgorod in which they comfortably qualified for the last 16. Kane, 24, scored two penalties and got lucky with the third when Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot cannoned off his heel and flew in, overtaking Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku in the race for the Golden Boot. Both have four goals.
“We wouldn’t swap him for anyone in the tournament in terms of No 9s,” Southgate said afterwards. “You know that when he gets opportunities he’ll bury them. He’s very confident in his ability to convert chances. As important is the way he presses, holds the ball up, contributes to the overall game, and sacrifices himself for the team.”
Asked if Kane was displaying the levels of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, Southgate replied: “Clearly the stage to do that is this one. He’s started brilliantly. The penalty: you can dismiss penalties to be easy, but the length of times he had to wait, and the number of distractions which made him refocus and start again, that tells you about the mental toughness he has got. He’s there. He’s up at the top.”
Despite scoring six past a physical Panama side, who scored their first ever World Cup goal late on, Southgate admitted he was not even overly impressed. “I really didn’t like the performance,” he explained. “Well, I didn’t like the start, and I didn’t like the goal at the end, but I guess the bits in the middle were pretty good. I think we were a little bit anxious at the beginning.”
The score-line meant England are joint on points and goal difference with Belgium – who they face on Thursday – but ahead on their fair-play record. With results elsewhere, finishing second could potentially open up an easier route to the semi-finals. But Southgate said: “We would want to keep momentum and keep progressing as a team. I’ve heard talk of it being better finishing second, but how do you work all that out, really?”
On the prospect of winning the Golden Boot, Kane said: “There’s still a long way to go. The most important thing is winning games, and if my goals help my team win then that’s the perfect situation.”