Gareth Southgate’s England kicked started their World Cup campaign in Qatar with a resounding 6-2 victory over Iran.
Jude Bellingham’s first goal for England (35), followed by goals from Bukayo Saka (43) and Raheem Sterling (45+1), gave England a commanding three-goal advantage at the break.
Saka scored his second goal of the match for England after the break (62) with another smart finish, but Southgate’s side were jolted by Mehdi Taremi’s equalizer for Iran (63).
It proved to be the case as substitute Marcus Rashford scored England’s fifth goal on his third touch (71) after entering the game, followed by another substitute, Jack Grealish, who scored England’s sixth goal.
John Stones was adjudged to have tugged Taremi’s shirt, prompting VAR to request that referee Raphael Claus check the pitchside monitor. The penalty was granted, and Taremi maintained his composure to deceive Jordan Pickford.
Despite Iran’s late goal, it was a start Southgate, who had been criticized for England’s poor form leading up to the tournament, would have dreamed of as his team stormed to the top of Group B.
“I was a little bit nervous before the game because it’s an awkward group, but they’ve all been involved today. These England lads don’t disappoint.
“It’s the third tournament in a row now we’ve watched these lads and they always deliver. They always step up and you can trust them and our manager Gareth Southgate.
“They’ve had a rough run in to this tournament and I know this is only Iran and they were poor, but to go and beat them 6-2 is still some statement.”Sky Sports’ Gary Neville to ITV
England player ratings
Pickford (7), Trippier (7), Stones (7), Maguire (7), Shaw (7), Bellingham (8), Rice (5), Mount (6), Saka (8), Sterling (7), Kane (7).
Subs: Dier (6), Rashford (7), Foden (6), Grealish (6), Wilson (6).
Player of the match: Bukayo Saka.
POLITICS AND OTHER OFF-FIELD MATTER
At a World Cup dominated by politics, despite FIFA’s determination that the football should be left to do the talking, the buildup to the game was overshadowed by issues off the pitch.
England’s captain Harry Kane had abandoned plans to wear a ‘One Love’ armband when FIFA made clear that those who bore the multi-coloured symbol of diversity and inclusion could be booked, with the striker opting for a FIFA-approved “No Discrimination” version.
There was also swirling speculation that Iran’s players would use the platform to show solidarity with anti-government protests at home and as the Iranian national anthem blared out, the players stood stony faced and silent.
The game eventually took centre stage and it was not long before England were in top gear.
Their cause was helped when Iran’s influential goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand was forced off the pitch after 20 minutes following a sickening clash of heads with a team mate but Southgate’s side took full advantage.
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