BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Ruben Loftus-Cheek played the full 90 minutes as England roared into the second round of the World Cup with a 6-1 thrashing of Panama – with former Millwall loanee Harry Kane scoring a hat-trick.
The Three Lions will face Belgium on Thursday night to determine who finishes top of Group G. Both nations are assured of progression and are tied in terms of goal difference and points.
Lewisham-raised Loftus-Cheek’s 62nd-minute shot clipped off the heel of Kane and looped into the net to give Kane his treble – with only Geoff Hurst and Gary Lineker previously notching hat-tricks for England at a World Cup finals.
Peckham’s former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand, a pundit for the BBC, said: “What I’m so impressed about with him [Kane] is that he is a wonderfully balanced individual. He never gets too excited when things go well or too down when it is not going well.
“What that allows him to have is that inner confidence. He produces week in and week out for his club and now he is doing it as captain for his country.
“This England team has excited a nation like no other team for probably 20 years.
“There are players in this squad that were not sure of starting but after those two performances the likes of [Kieran] Trippier, Jesse Lingard and [John] Stones are sitting and saying: ‘We are mainstays of this team’.”
Kane is leading the race for the Golden Boot with five goals.
The former Lions loan frontman said: “I’m so proud of the boys, we are just enjoying being here.
“It [the hat-trick] was one of my lucky ones, but I’ll take it. We’ve got to keep it going – we are not getting ahead of ourselves. It is a big game against Belgium.”
Asked if England fans should start to believe, the Tottenham striker added: “Yeah, I said before you have to believe to achieve anything in life.
“We have to believe. There is a lot of hard work to do. We’ve got to stick together and keep to our gameplan.”
Loftus-Cheek, playing on the right of midfield, was more involved in the second half against Panama.
His shot looped off Kane, who knew nothing about his touch.
Loftus-Cheek spent last season on loan at Crystal Palace. The question is whether he will stay at Chelsea or seek a move this summer to gain more first-team football.
Former Blues star Frank Lampard said: “A lot of people talk about the Chelsea situation, but it is a two-way thing.
“Chelsea have potentially blocked his path by signing people in his position and Ruben, when he gets his chance, has to be a bit more ruthless.
“When he goes back pre-season he needs to say to Chelsea: ‘I’m an England player, I deserve to be here and I can be a quality player for Chelsea’.”
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