England humiliates Panama, USMNT's World Cup failure gets even more embarrassing

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The United States men’s national team, as you are probably aware, is not at the 2018 World Cup. On the worst night in its history, Oct. 10, 2017, it lost to a Trinidad and Tobago B-team, and failed to qualify for the first time in 32 years.

But if you thought the humiliation ended there – if you thought it was confined to that one nightmarish night – uh, you were wrong. On Sunday, Americans everywhere got a reminder of just how embarrassing the USMNT’s failure was.

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Panama, the team that finished two full spots ahead of the U.S. in CONCACAF’s final qualifying round, was, shall we say, humbled by England on Sunday. The final score was 6-1. It was 5-0 at halftime. It could have been worse.

In more blunt terms, Panama was painfully overmatched. It put in the worst, most ignominious performance of the 2018 World Cup.


And it offered a reminder of just how bad the U.S. had to be to miss out on Russia.

Yes, the USMNT should be embarrassed

The most difficult part of this for USMNT fans to stomach is that, yes, Panama deserved to be here.

There were two prevalent thoughts as Sunday’s beatdown unfolded. One was, How bad did the U.S. have to be to finish behind this Panama team? The second was, The U.S. should be here instead of Panama.

The former was the correct thought, and the answer was “very.” The latter, though, is ridiculous.

Sure, the U.S. is a better team than Panama. It might have put up a better fight at the World Cup. But it wasn’t better over 10 games against North and Central American opposition in 2016 and 2017. The USMNT fell on its face. “Better than Panama” was an incredibly low bar in the first place, and the U.S. couldn’t clear it.

Maybe Panama didn’t quite deserve to qualify, but the U.S. certainly didn’t either. If Panama hadn’t, Honduras would have. The U.S. was awful. So let’s quash the narrative that Sunday’s result shows why the U.S. should be in Russia instead.

Hey, did you know the World Cup is expanding to 48 teams?

Yeah, and that means teams like Panama are going to be World Cup regulars beginning in 2026.

It doesn’t mean all 16 extra teams are going to be as bad as the Panamanians have been in 2018. Every additional team from South America will add to the strength of the field. Most from Europe will as well.

But one of the several absurd and detrimental aspects of the 48-team format is how the extra slots will be allocated. CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean) will get 2.5 extra guaranteed spots. Asia will get 3.5 more. Africa will add four. At least half the field will come from those three confederations and Oceania.

It’s natural to overreact to results like England 6, Panama 1, and Russia 5, Saudi Arabia 0. But yeah, there are going to be some lopsided games at the 2026 World Cup – in North America – and beyond.

Some will argue that expansion will enable more stories like Panama’s, which was beautiful and heartwarming, despite two heavy defeats. But it will also make those stories more common, and therefore less special.

Harry Kane takes Golden Boot lead

Harry Kane’s hat trick Sunday took him above both Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku. He has five goals, and the Golden Boot lead, via a rebound from three yards out, an unmarked header on the doorstep, two penalties, and a Ruben Loftus-Cheek shot that clipped off Kane’s heel on the way into the net.

But hey, they all count just the same!

How good is England?

Please, don’t overreact to the scoreline. It was less about England, more about Panama. Just as Belgium’s two three-goal victories were no reason to alter knockout round expectations, England’s dismantling of Los Canaleros isn’t either.

Did England score too many goals?

England went up 6-0, and in doing so, it surpassed Belgium’s goal differential for top spot in Group G. The question was whether that was a good thing.

England’s Harry Kane celebrates after he scored his side’s second goal during the group G match between England and Panama at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod , Russia, Sunday, June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
England’s Harry Kane celebrates after he scored his side’s second goal during the group G match between England and Panama at the 2018 soccer World Cup at the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod , Russia, Sunday, June 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Given how Group E, F and H appear to be shaking out, many believe the runner-up spot in Group G will be favorable to the top spot. Second place could be an avenue to a four-team pod featuring Switzerland, Mexico and the Group H winner. The reward – er, punishment – for first place could be a foursome featuring Brazil, Germany and the Group H runner-up.


Panama’s late goal to make it 6-1 left England and Belgium level on points, goal differential and goals scored heading into their showdown on Matchday 3. The next tiebreaker is discipline (yellow and red card counts).

Which means, if England and Belgium are tied late in their Thursday match, and if they would rather finish second … there could be incentive to take a few intentional yellow cards.

We probably won’t get any shenanigans. But it’s worth considering.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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