By Ossian Shine
NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (Reuters) - Harry Kane may not have known much about his third goal against Panama on Sunday, but make no mistake, England have finally found the world class finisher they need to punch deep into international competitions.
Leading from the front, he marshalled England to their biggest World Cup victory, scored two superb penalties and got his hat-trick when a shot clipped the back of his heel.
Job done, Kane made way for Jamie Vardy for most of the second half, able to reflect on the biggest win of the tournament so far, England's biggest in any World Cup, and long-overdue ecstasy for the travelling English fans.
"A ball to be proud of," smiled Kane, taking the man-of-the-match award. "Not many players score a hat-trick in the World Cup, so I'm extremely proud of it.
"Extremely proud of the way we played, the hard work... and we also had fun out there as well which was important."
Well might Kane feel pride after becoming top scorer at the 2018 World Cup, his five goals taking him ahead of Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku of Belgium.
Kane too became the first England player to score a hat-trick at a World Cup since Gary Lineker against Poland in 1986 and the third overall, with Geoff Hurst getting a treble in the 1966 final.
It is all so different to his last international competition when, at the European Championship in 2016, he arrived as the main goal hope of a supposedly hungry young team but from the first match looked weary and off the pace.
Things failed to improve but then-coach Roy Hodgson kept faith with the striker -- even continuing with a bizarre policy of using his centre forward to take corners.
The introduction from the bench of razor-fast Marcus Rashford merely showed how sluggish Kane looked and he, along with his team mates, ended the tournament with his reputation bruised following the last-16 defeat by Iceland.
This time, he has looked sharper, more confident and more relaxed -- perhaps galvanised by the captain's armband -- and has now scored more goals than any other England player in a World Cup group stage, his five strikes overtaking the three scored by Roger Hunt in 1966 and Lineker in 1986.
His finishing has been clinical: Kane has scored with all five of his shots on target in the tournament, and is one goal behind 1986 Golden Boot winner Lineker as the England player to score the most goals at a single World Cup.
"There's going to be a lot of talk about it, but there is still a long way to go," he said. "The most important thing is to help my team win ... So far, so good."
(Reporting by Ossian Shine, editing by Pritha Sarkar)