What Jamie Carragher has said about England ahead of Belgium could well be true

Panama might not be the strongest opposition the World Cup has to offer, but England can only beat what’s in front of them.

The Three Lions got their fans very excited with a 6-1 victory on Sunday afternoon.

Harry Kane sealed his hat-trick in somewhat fortuitous circumstances, the third goal bouncing in off his heel after he had slammed home two penalties.

John Stones also netted a brace, with Jesse Lingard the other player to get on the scoresheet.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that this is Panama’s first World Cup and with a population of just over four million, Los Canaleros are definitely among the minnows at this year’s tournament.

Nevertheless, Gareth Southgate’s men put in such a solid performance that other nations must have taken notice.

In fact, Jamie Carragher believes that England now have an opportunity to send out a message to the rest of the world in their final group game against Belgium.

Writing in the Telegraph, the former centre-back described Thursday’s match as “one of the most significant games in our recent history”, with the two sides heading into it on equal points and goal difference.

The last-16 draw – and beyond – could actually work out more favourably for the team that finishes second in Group G; in a worst-case scenario, the winners could have to face Colombia and then either Brazil or Germany in the quarters.

Imploring England to treat the Belgium game as a knockout, Carragher explained:

“It might be that finishing below Belgium creates what appears to be a more ‘favourable’ draw, avoiding Brazil or Germany in the last eight.

“What looks more desirable does not always work that way – have we forgotten the pre-match optimism before Iceland two years ago?

“Imagine the belief in the players if their courage secures a positive outcome again Belgium. Confidence will soar.

“Rather than worrying who England can meet, a message can be sent to others that England are the side everyone else should seek to avoid.”

Belgium are widely discussed as being among the dark horses in Russia and England’s players will be familiar with many of their squad, six of their starting XI vs Tunisia playing in the Premier League.

Facing the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne will pose a very different challenge to the fight put up by Panama, but psychologically, Carragher insists it’s vital England finally beat a big team at a major tournament.

“Here’s why it is so important England make a statement: Paraguay, Belgium, Cameroon, Spain, Denmark and Ecuador,” he added.

“These are the six countries England have beaten in knockout tournament football since 1966. The only superpower in that group is Spain, who lost on penalties at Wembley in Euro ’96. England have lost the ability to beat heavyweight opponents when it matters.

“They have a poor record against more fancied teams due to a lack of belief.”

Instilling a new sense of belief and optimism has been one of the biggest achievements of Southgate’s reign so far and England fans can only hope it continues against Roberto Martinez’s side.