REPINO, Russia (Reuters) - England need to be more clinical if they are to take care of Panama in their second game in Group G and put themselves on the brink of qualification to the knockout stage.
If England beat Panama and Belgium beat or draw with Tunisia then England are through to the last 16.
Gareth Southgate’s side beat Tunisia 2-1 in their opening game but missed a series of first-half chances and needed a stoppage time winner from captain Harry Kane to secure the three points.
Defender John Stones says England have done their homework on Panama and says it is clear where the biggest area for improvement needs to be.
“Being more clinical,” he told reporters, “I think we know how the games are going to play out now and who we are going to play,” he said.
What England have learnt from their study of the Central American side, playing in their first World Cup, is that ‘Los Canaleros’ will aim to play a high-paced, physical game.
Southgate has prided himself on building a team that enjoy pass and movement football. Stones says they won’t change that approach because of their opponents.
“It is something we have spoken about and we are going to stick to our game plan. We’re going to cause them as many threats as we can using our own styles of play,” he said.
“That’s credit to the manager and the players we have got because a lot of the players at their clubs never change their style of play in difficult situations, they keep working at it and grind down teams,” he added.
Southgate has an injury doubt over attacking midfielder Dele Alli, who picked up a thigh injury against Tunisia. Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who impressed as a substitute in the opener, is expected to start if Alli misses out.
The England manager will also have to decide whether to stick with Raheem Sterling in attack, despite his disappointing display, or bring in the in-form Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford.
Whoever Southgate opts for can expect a physical battle with Panama’s strapping central defender Roman Torres.
“Football is like that — you always have to impose yourself, you have to mark out your territory,” said the Seattle Sounders defender.
“England are a bit more direct than Belgium. They try to make use of the pace they have. We’ll need to be compact and limit their space.”
Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty