by Jack Webb
England go top of Group B after an emphatic opening World Cup display against Iran in Doha on Monday afternoon, with Bukayo Saka at the double.
The Three Lions dominated much of the game, with 78% possession and 13 shots against their opponents, who were lacklustre throughout.
Iran, who began the World Cup in good form, were made to look ordinary against a relentless England side. England, on the other hand, entered the match under much scrutiny.
Southgate in particular has attracted criticism from pundits and supporters, his team having not won in six games.
Despite their previous results, England made an energetic start, forcing a corner in the second minute.
There were shouts for a penalty, with Harry Maguire wrestled to the ground by Iran defender Majid Hosseini.
Southgate’s men continued their bright introduction, with a cross from Harry Kane forcing a save from goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand in the eight minute.
Beiranvand’s heroics forced him to leave the pitch following a suspected concussion from colliding with Hosseini after reaching his fingertips to Kane’s pass. The first-choice shot stopper, who has 53 caps for Iran, was replaced by Hossein Hosseini approx. 11 minutes later.
Iran, set up in a 5-4-1 formation, defended as a solid unit, making things difficult for England as the three-time Asian Cup champions got into the game.
This was shown with Carlos Quieroz’s side committing tough fouls on their opponents, forward Alireza Jahanbakhsh receiving a yellow card in the 25th minute after hacking down Luke Shaw.
Mason Mount could have opened the scoring in the 29th minute, wasting a chance from Saka’s cross at the near post.
The one-time World Cup winners came even closer shortly after, a header from Maguire rattling the crossbar after a corner from Keiran Trippier.
Maguire, whose inclusion dominated the pre-match headlines, was a constant threat throughout the first half, his dominance in the box proving difficult for the opponents.
The Three Lions finally unbroke the deadlock in the 35th minute, Jude Bellingham heading in a pinpoint accurate cross from Shaw from the left hand side.
Bellingham, who is England’s youngest squad member at 19 years old, has nine goals at club level this season, including four in five games in the UEFA Champions League.
The Borussia Dortmund captain becomes England’s SECOND ever teenager to score in the World Cup Finals, the first being Michael Owen in 1998.
The lead was doubled shortly before the break, fellow youngster Saka thumping the ball in on the edge of the box following a knock down from Maguire.
The first-half was capped off with a powerful finish from veteran Raheem Sterling at the near post, making it 3-0 to England at halftime.
The second-half began with three changes from Iran, former Atletico Madrid youth forward Saeid Ezatolahi being amongst the substitutes looking to turn things around.
The losing side continued their aggressive style of play, defender Morteza Pouraliganji receiving a yellow card in the 49th minute for a needless foul on Kane, who received ankle treatment.
England started the half as they ended it, forcing a corner in the 55th minute following exciting play from Bellingham.
Iran, in contrast, struggled to keep possession, often heaping a long ball to be ultimately intercepted by England’s defenders.
The lead was increased to four goals shortly after the hour mark, Saka netting his second after coolly slotting past Hosseini on the edge of the box.
The Arsenal winger, who missed the decisive penalty against Italy in the 2020 European Championship Final, continues his good form for the national team, grabbing a goal and an assist in the previous game against Germany.
Iran crawled one back shortly after, Porto forward Mehdi Taremi slotting in a chance within the six-yard box.
Southgate swiftly made four changes, two-goal Saka being one of the players called off.
His replacement Marcus Rashford needed no introduction, placing the ball past Hosseini immediately after being brought on the pitch.
Rashford, often lauded for his charitable efforts, has fought his way back into Manchester United’s starting XI following injuries and poor form in the previous campaign.
The forward remained a constant threat down the right hand side, having another shot blocked in the 84th minute.
The Three Lions did not slow down towards the end, spraying the ball around a disjointed Iran side, continuing to create chances.
Their dominance ultimately capped off a sixth goal, Jack Grealish slotting in an open goal following a cut back from fellow substitute Callum Wilson.
The Iranians grabbed another consolation goal late on, Taremi grabbing his second from the penalty spot after being brought down by John Stones after 10 minutes of stoppage time.
Despite conceding a late penalty, England have plenty of positives to take from their opening match which puts them comfortably in first place in Group B, with a positive four goal difference.
Southgate’s men will remain top for now at least, before Wales face USA at 19.00pm GMT at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
What’s Next For England?
- They will face the USA on Friday 25th November, approx. 19.00pm GMT at the Al Bayt Stadium
- The match will take place live on ITV
- This will be the first time England and the USA will face each other in a competitive match since the 2010 World Cup, which resulted in a 1-1 draw
- A win for England would take them through to the Round of 16
Does England have what it takes to go all the way?
Comment your thoughts below!