England's Harry Kane celebrates scoring a goal during their 2019 World Cup match against Panama in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, June 24 2018. Picture: REUTERS
England's Harry Kane celebrates scoring a goal during their 2019 World Cup match against Panama in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, June 24 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Harry Kane may not have known much about his third goal against Panama on Sunday, but make no mistake, England have found the world-class finisher they need to punch deep into international competitions.

Leading from the front, he marshalled England to their biggest World Cup victory, scored two superb penalties and got his hat-trick when a shot clipped the back of his heel.

Job done, Kane made way for Jamie Vardy for most of the second half, able to reflect on the biggest win of the tournament so far, England’s biggest in any World Cup and long-overdue ecstasy for travelling fans.

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"A ball to be proud of," Kane said, taking the man of the match award. "Not many players score a hat-trick in the World Cup, so I’m extremely proud.

"Extremely proud of the way we played, the hard work… and we also had fun out there as well, which was important."

Well might Kane feel pride after becoming top scorer at the 2018 World Cup, his five goals taking him ahead of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku of Belgium.

Record hat-trick 

Kane became the first England player to score a hat-trick at a World Cup since Gary Lineker against Poland in 1986 and the third overall, with Geoff Hurst getting a treble in 1966.

It is all so different from his last international competition when, at the European Championship in 2016, he arrived as the main goal hope of a supposedly hungry young team but from the first match looked weary and off the pace.

Things failed to improve but then coach Roy Hodgson kept faith with the striker — even continuing with a bizarre policy of using his centre forward to take corners.

The introduction from the bench of razor-fast Marcus Rashford merely showed how sluggish Kane looked and he, with his teammates, ended the tournament with his reputation bruised following the last 16 defeat by Iceland.

This time he has looked sharper, more confident and more relaxed — perhaps galvanised by the captain’s armband — and has now scored more goals than any other England player in a World Cup group stage, his five strikes overtaking the three scored by Roger Hunt in 1966 and Lineker in 1986.

His finishing has been clinical: Kane has scored with all five of his shots on target in the tournament, and is one goal behind 1986 Golden Boot winner Lineker as the England player to score the most goals at a single World Cup.

"There’s going to be a lot of talk about it, but there is still a long way to go," he said. "The most important thing is to help my team win… So far, so good."

Midfielder Keisuke Honda came off the bench to salvage a 2-2 draw for Japan against Senegal, as both teams were locked at the top of Group H following an entertaining encounter at the Ekaterinburg Arena on Sunday.

Veteran Honda, 32, replaced Shinji Kagawa in the second half with his team down 2-1 and fired the equaliser in 12 minutes from time after a bad error by Senegal goalkeeper Khadim N’Diaye.

Senegal thought they had won the match as Moussa Wague drilled the ball into the top of the net on 71 minutes to make it 2-1 after Sadio Mane’s fortuitous first-half opener was cancelled out by Takashi Inui’s curling shot. But Honda ensured things ended level.

The result leaves both teams, who beat Colombia and Poland respectively in their opening matches, on four points from two games and within reach of a spot in the last 16.

• Colombia brushed aside Poland 3-0 in Kazan on Sunday to boost their hopes of reaching the World Cup knockout stage as captain Radamel Falcao starred with a goal and an assist.

The South Americans, quarter-finalists four years ago in Brazil, will be sure of progressing from Group H if they beat Senegal on Thursday, while the world’s eighth-ranked team Poland are eliminated.