Harry Kane and England never had reason to doubt it. (Antonio Calanni/AP)

SOCHI, Russia — For a hint that things might really, really be different with England in 2018, check out its 21st-century history in dealing with the minnows, guppies and small carp of Concacaf, all the way up to that 6-1 blistering of Panama on Sunday way up in Nizhny Novgorod, a result that somehow managed to make the U.S failure at World Cup qualification even more macabre.

In 2006, England bested wee Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in group play in Nuremburg, Germany, and it cheated to do that. Back then Trinidad and Tobago, long before it made the United States its . . . its . . . its . . . victim, stood as the smallest-ever World Cup contestant at the time, having wriggled through Bahrain in a two-leg qualifying scrap that followed the final round of regional qualifying out of North and Central America and the Caribbean. Yet England did not score for the first 82 minutes, and had you watched this in, say, a pub in Soho in London, you would have detected a mixture of tedium, long-rehearsed frustration, mild resignation and drinking.


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In the 83rd minute of this occasion of both inspiration (a little country stays level) and dreariness (a “golden generation” of a major soccer country stays level with a little country), the 6-foot-7 English striker Peter Crouch needed a little extra propulsion to rise above the 6-1 Trinidadian defender Brent Sancho. Thus did Crouch yank himself upward by Sancho’s dreadlocks. Besides calling into question whether dreadlocks constitute an unwise gadget to carry around the sport, the moment managed to achieve preposterousness in multiple ways.

[For more on England’s 6-1 victory over Panama, scroll down to the in-game updates section.]

By now, the 1.3 million citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, roughly the same population as San Antonio, also can chatter about how last fall, they made the United States their . . . their . . . their victim, ousting from Concacaf qualifying the populous behemoth (if not soccer behemoth). From 2006 to 2017, they apparently often spoke of Crouch and dreadlocks.

“It is folklore here in Trinidad,” Sancho told BBC Radio Kent in 2015. “It is one of those things that anywhere I go, people will always remind me.”

A lukewarm England reached the quarterfinals that time, but never appeared worthy.

In 2010, Concacaf-wise, England opened the World Cup in Rustenberg, South Africa, by drawing 1-1 with the United States, a match of which the memory bank blares with one thing: English goalkeeper Robert Green’s blunder in the 40th minute.

Steven Gerrard had scored on four minutes for England, perhaps wreaking English optimism among young viewers who refused to listen to their parents about reality. On 40 minutes, that Texan Clint Dempsey whipped his left leg to propel one from atop the box toward Green, to whom it skittered directly and without any signs of mischief.

It then caromed off his glove and slowly trickled into the net as he slipped slightly and then lunged back for it in the kind of way that turns up in many an REM nightmare of human beings. Manager Fabio Capello, such a careful orchestrator of preparations, took on the kind of expression that shows there are so many things in life for which nobody can prepare.

England did emerge from the largely toothless group after drawing with Algeria and taking the measure of Slovenia, then went out convincingly to Germany immediately thereafter.

In 2014, England lost to Italy and Uruguay before drawing 0-0 with Concacaf’s Costa Rica in an episode of a deadness that felt deader than dead. Here’s Daniel Taylor in the Guardian (with occasional dialectic spelling changes): “Imagine, for one moment, England’s bland ignominy and just reflect on the moments at the final whistle. Costa Rica — little, patronized Costa Rica — have won Group D and their manager, Jorge Luis Pinto, could be seen punching the air and bellowing to the skies. As one team traipsed away apologetically, the other reflected on the prize of a knockout tie in Recife on Sunday. They have done it from a country of 4.8 million people. Or the equivalent of 10 Bradfords.

“It’s a conundrum,” as England Manager Roy Hodgson said.

That mirthless failure to show even a hint of an EKG of reaching the knockout stage seemed to quash whatever expectations still lurked within England. The famous loss to Iceland at Euro 2016 lent further quashing. Yet maybe it’s true that, as in, oh, the NHL, destroyed expectations might help out somehow. In the days before this World Cup, England Manager Gareth Southgate welcomed the quashed expectations without a trace of bitterness, even as scribes and others spoke of a 2018 team less inchoate and more unified even if not as anticipated.

The England that decimated Panama did business in the manner one would expect of the nation with the world’s most-watched league. If things really are different in 2018, maybe you can measure it partly by using little old CONCACAF.

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What’s next

England: vs. Belgium in Kaliningrad, Thursday, 2 p.m.

Panama: vs. Tunisia in Saransk, Thursday, 2 p.m.

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In-game updates

Group G, Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod

England had it from the first whistle. Just nine minutes into the match, England scored its first goal and after that, there was no looking back. England continued to score goals throughout the entire first half, entering halftime with a record five goals, and then added one more in the second half.

Those five first-half goals tied for the second-most goals ever scored in a half of the World Cup, and the total of six is the most goals scored by England in the tournament.

Panama did manage to get on the board in the 77th minute of the match, marking the team’s first-ever goal in the World Cup. Felipe Baloy, who scored Panama’s lone goal, is the third oldest player at the time of his first career World Cup goal.

Goal, Panama!

Panama finally gets on the board with 37-year-old Felipe Baloy’s shot in the 77th minute. It’s the country’s first-ever World Cup goal.

Yellow card 

Called against Panama’s Michael Amir Murillo in the 72nd minute. Felipe Baloy pulled off the back of England’s defensive line, which fell asleep, from Ricardo Aliva’s free-kick.

This is Panama’s first-ever World Cup goal.

Yet another goal, England!

At this point it isn’t too surprising, but England added to its lead again! Harry Kane scored his third goal of the match, becoming England’s third player ever to tally a hat trick in the World Cup.

Kane is now done for the day and is replaced by Jamie Vardy.

Halftime update

The first 45 minutes of this match has been all England, all the time. Scoring its first goal in the seventh minute of the game, its last in the 45th and three other goals in between, England leads Panama 5-0 at the break. England has also been extremely efficient, scoring five times out of the seven shots they took. Panama has a lot of work to do in the second half, both on offense and defense, if they have any hope of catching up.

Another one!

England has taken complete control of the game as the first half comes to an end. Harry Kane brought his team’s goal total to five as he scored off another penalty kick.

Goal, England!

Make it four goals for England as Stones scored again after an initial save from Panama.

Goal, England!

England added to their lead with midfielder Jesse Lingard curled his shot into the top corner of the net.

Yellow Card

Against England’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 23rd minute.

Goal, England!

England doubled their lead when Harry Kane scored off a penalty kick. This is Kane’s third goal in three games. He is also the first to score a penalty for England since David Beckham in 2002 against Argentina.

Goal, England!

England struck early as they scored in the end of the seventh minute when John Stones headed the ball into the net off a corner kick.

Starting lineups

Pregame thoughts

Harry Kane’s dramatic header in stoppage time gave England a 2-1 win over Tunisia, creating one of the national team’s fondest World Cup moments in years. It also now has England on the verge of a spot in the knockout round. Belgium’s dominant win over Tunisia Saturday means England could secure at least second place in Group G by beating Panama. The Three Lions haven’t been past the round of 16 since 2006.

After its opening 3-0 loss to Belgium, meanwhile, Panama is still looking for its first-ever World Cup point. It could stay alive with a draw against England, but would then need to beat Belgium to have any chance at advancing.

When: Sunday, 8 a.m. Eastern.

How to watch on TV: FS1.

How to stream online: Fox Sports and the Fox Soccer Match Pass apps and FoxSportsGo.com.

How to watch in Spanish: Telemundo.

How to watch in Canada: Bell Media’s TSN and CTV networks, the TSN GO app and TSN.ca/live.

Team profiles

England (1-0-0, 3 points)

  • Last showing in the World Cup: Group stage, 2014.
  • Best finish: Champions, 1966.
  • Notable: England’s lone World Cup championship was won on its home turf, at Wembley Stadium in London. England’s best performances in the last half century of European championships, a third place in 1996, also came at home.
  • FIFA world ranking: 12. ELO world ranking: 6.

Panama (0-0-1, 0 points)

  • Last showing in the World Cup: N/A.
  • Best finish: N/A.
  • Notable: This is Panama’s first World Cup appearance. In 2014, the country almost advanced out of the fourth round of CONCACAF qualifying. However, after leading the United States 2-1 after 90 minutes in its final match, Panama allowed two goals in stoppage time and was eliminated.
  • FIFA world ranking: 55. ELO world ranking: 52.

Players to watch

England forward Harry Kane burst into stardom in the 2014-15 season, when he scored 21 goals for Tottenham. His production hasn’t slowed; he scored 25, 29 and 30 goals in the next three seasons, while also staring for the national team. Panama striker Blas Perez is tied for most goals in the national team’s history with 43. Panama will also look to defender Ramos Torre, who was key to the team’s qualification — scoring the clinching goal and acting as a defensive stalwart.

Complete World Cup scores, standing and results

Read more about the World Cup:

Don’t blame Lionel Messi for Argentina’s struggles. Blame the coach.

Germany, pushed to an unfamiliar brink, keeps World Cup hopes alive with stunning goal

Belgium trounces Tunisia and sends a message to the World Cup

El Tri moves closer to advancing with 2-1 win