By Max Carlyle

The headline splashed across the front of Monday morning’s edition of The Times read: “Harry’s heroics allow fans to dream the impossible dream.” After becoming just the third Englishman to score a hat-trick at a World Cup, captain Harry Kane and a dominant England have a nation believing football is finally coming home again.

Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland’s well versed side looked equally as comfortable defensively as they did on the front foot, boasting a 5-0 lead by half-time. England demonstrated a lethalness from set-pieces early in the game after a period of settling in, with an unmarked John Stones heading in his first international goal from a Kieran Trippier corner with just eight minutes on the clock.

His second came 32 minutes later. A free kick routine straight from the training ground between Ashley Young and Jordan Henderson fell to Stones in the six-yard box, despite much Panamanian grappling in the area.

The rough defensive approach from Panama did not let up, and England were rewarded the 15th and 16th penalties of the tournament, with the Central Americans unable to cope with the movement of Jesse Lingard and Kane in the box. Kane dispatched both spot-kicks into the top left hand corner emphatically.

England’s third goal was a thing of beauty. Lingard and Raheem Sterling combined to produce one of the goals of the tournament so far, producing a lovely give and go to allow Lingard to curl home from 20 yards.

Heading into the break five goals to the good, a celebratory mood swept across England, prompting videos of elated crowds up and down the country to flood social media. However, little could stop the party in Panama as 37 year-old Felipe Baloy got onto the end of a well delivered free kick, sending Panamanians both at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium and in Panama into raptures at their first ever World Cup goal, 12 minutes from time.

The goal meant little in the grand scheme of things though as captain Kane had scored his third, and England’s sixth, in the 62nd minute, when Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s long range drive clipped the back of the striker’s heel, deceiving Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and finding its way into the net.

Despite the score line, manager Southgate remained level-headed and critical of his side’s performance, showing his willingness to self-asses and iron out small flaws in England’s game. “I didn’t particularly like the performance really,” he said with an honest laugh. “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.”

Though club allegiances were defining factors in the unfulfilled potential of the so-called golden generation, the class of 2018 look like a cohesive group. England’s final group stage match against Belgium will be a telling one as both sides battle for top spot in group G. If the Three Lions can match up against a side full of Premier League stars, who’s to say that we can’t start shedding the cynicism around England in major tournaments and really, really begin to believe.