England will be looking to repeat their success at set pieces when they face Panama in their second Group G game, defender John Stones said on Thursday. Both of Harry Kane’s goals in the 2-1 win over Tunisia in their opening match came from corners, a part of the game that central defender Stones says the team had focused on in training. “We worked on it a lot — two, three days before the game — it paid off really,” he told reporters, explaining how England again hoped to thrive in this area on Sunday.
“The records in tournament football that we’ve looked at and researched show a lot of goals have come from set-plays and not open play,” he added. England’s opener came after a powerful header from Stones was pushed out by the Tunisia goalkeeper and Kane slotted home the loose ball.
In stoppage-time, the winner came when Kieran Trippier’s corner was headed on by Harry Maguire and nodded home at the back post by the England captain. Maguire, Stones and Kane, in particular, offer an aerial threat at set-pieces which England believe they can fully exploit.
“We are trying to capitalise and use it to our advantage. We have a lot of powerful headers. To get two really was (reward for) putting the work on it in training,” said Manchester City’s Stones.
He reckoned that Gareth Southgate’s side had shown they could be equally effective against both zonal marking and man-marking. “At the start, they (Tunisia) went for a zonal position and then they saw us getting success so they changed it and tried to man-mark us, but we still got joy from it right to the last minute.
“It told us a story that we have got to keep working hard at them because it pays off — even in the dying seconds.” Kane’s clinical finishes was also a reminder of the strange tactic adopted by then England manager Roy Hodgson at Euro 2016 where he persisted in the Tottenham Hotspur player taking the corners rather than finishing them.
Stones, who has settled into a role in the centre of a three-man defence with Kyle Walker to his right and Maguire to his left, is relishing the responsibility of organising the back line and being tasked with starting England’s passing moves. “I am enjoying myself. From that central position, it is good because I have so many options, I have the ball trying to set up things.
“On the other side I have a big role to be organising and make sure we don’t get counter-attacked.”