England vs Iran. FIFA World Cup Group B.
Khalifa International StadiumAttendance45,334.
Report as England hit six past Iran in World Cup opener; Bellingham scored first England goal; Saka and Sterling strikes saw England race into 3-0 lead; Saka added his second of game; Rashford and Grealish rounded off big win in Doha; Taremi scored two consolation goals for Iran
Tuesday 22 November 2022 06:04, UK
England got their World Cup campaign in Qatar off to a flying start as Gareth Southgate’s side roared to a 6-2 victory against Iran
Jude Bellingham's first goal for England (35) got things under way for the Three Lions before strikes from Bukayo Saka (43) and Raheem Sterling (45+1) saw them race into a three-goal lead at the interval.
England added to their lead after the break when Saka added his second of the game (62) with another smart finish, but Southgate's side were given a wake-up call when Mehdi Taremi pulled a goal back for Iran (65).
It proved to be just that for England as substitute Marcus Rashford added a fifth with just his third touch (71) after coming onto the pitch before another sub in Jack Grealish added England's sixth (90).
There was a minor blemish right at the death as referee Raphael Claus was asked to check the pitchside monitor by VAR after John Stones was adjudged to have tugged the shirt of Taremi. The penalty was awarded and Taremi kept his cool to send Jordan Pickford the wrong way.
Despite Iran's late goal it was the start Southgate, who had come in for some criticism after his side's poor run of form leading into the tournament, would have dreamed of as his side roared to the top of Group B.
Sky Sports' Gary Neville to ITV:
“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.
"It’s going to be really important in the tournament: seeing Rashford, Grealish and Foden come off the bench is some sight for England fans. Everyone’s involved, they all come off the pitch feeling really good.
"It’s easy to say ‘It’s only Iran’ but the way in which they scored the goals, they had to show patience early on when there was massive disruption in the game for the stoppage, they were not just professional but there were some really exciting goals. Great finishing.
"The best thing is Gareth has been able to make lots of substitutions, include lots of players, which is always brilliant in a World Cup."
Off-field issues dominated the build-up to the game with England announcing just three hours before kick-off that Harry Kane would not wear the OneLove armband at the World Cup in Qatar.
Fans also had ticket problems as they attempted to enter the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, while Iran's players chose not sing their national anthem before the Group B game clash in support of anti-government protesters back in Iran.
Once the action got underway, England thought they should have had an early penalty when Harry Maguire was man-handled by Rouzbeh Cheshmi in the penalty area following Kieran Tripper's corner.
England: 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.
Morteza Pouraliganji was also holding John Stones as England's centre-backs attacked the ball, but Brazilian referee Raphael Claus waved away the penalty appeals before VAR stuck with the on-field decisions.
Any rhythm England had built in the early stages was then stopped when Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand collided horribly with his team-mate Hosseini Majid as he tried to deal with a threatening Harry Kane cross.
Beiranvand spent several minutes down on the turf having treatment. Surprisingly, he was allowed to continue despite looking in no fit state to take any further part, but minutes later he signalled to the bench, slumping to the floor before being carried off on a stretcher to be replaced by reserve goalkeeper Seyed Hossein Hosseini.
It didn't take long for England to pick up a head of steam after the enforced break. Trippier's corner was met by Maguire, but his header thudded against the crossbar.
However, England didn't have to wait long for their first goal of the tournament, and it came thanks to Bellingham's first international goal. Luke Shaw whipped the ball in from the left and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder rose highest to glance the ball into the far corner.
England's dominance continued as Saka latched onto Maguire's knockdown before firing a stunning finish into the roof of the net to double the advantage and Sterling's smart finish from Kane's cross completed a perfect first 45 minutes for Southgate's side.
After the break, Saka added his second of the game, shifting the ball onto his left foot before cutting inside two Iran defenders and firing beyond Hosseini.
England were denied a clean sheet when Taremi peeled off Maguire to collect a pass from Ali Gholizadeh and flash a first-time shot past Pickford via the underside of the crossbar.
Southgate then rung the changes in attack, and it was two replacements who added to England's scoreline. Rashford, who was released by Kane's pass, scored with his third touch, producing a calm finish to add England's fifth before unselfish play from Callum Wilson teed up Grealish for a tap-in to score a sixth.
England were on course to match their biggest World Cup win, only for Taremi to score a last-gasp penalty after Stones was adjudged to have fouled the striker after a VAR check.
England manager Gareth Southgate told BBC:
"I'm a bit fed up with the end of it. To win by that margin and play the way as we did for the majority of the game we have to be really happy. We looked ready. We wanted to be that type of team.
"They dealt with game really well, there were lots of stoppages but our pressing and movement was really good. I've got to be really happy but we should not be conceding two goals at that stage in the game.
"We will have to be right on our game against the USA. It is a great start but we have to be better."
On England's sloppy finish: "It's a consequence of the score, we had 24 mins of added time across the game and it is a long time to focus and we just lost concentration. When we play at a slow tempo we are nowhere near as effective."
On being pleased overall: "We have some good players and today they really delivered. Our attacking players look a threat, our defence in the first hour controlled the game and were patient. The midfield were excellent and our forwards looked a threat. It is a great maker to put down."
"What I particularly liked was Jack Grealish's goal with Callum Wilson on. He could have been selfish but he was thinking of the team even at that moment. I'm a miserable so and so. I should be more excited but I have to keep the team on the right track."
Sky Sports' Micah Richards to BBC:
"Iran are no walk-over.
"I think England deserve all the credit today. It's been excellent from minute one. The moment the keeper got injured caused a stop-start game a little bit. They found second gear, from defence to midfield to attack.
"Yes, we got two sloppy goals, but the whole team were brilliant. I like the tactical bit as well with Bellingham. He's been more advanced in a number eight role. In the second half, it was more of a 4-2-3-1, a bit deeper, and they allowed Foden and Grealish to get hold of the ball."
Sky Sports World Cup reporter Rob Dorsett analyses how England's 6-2 victory against Iran will take the pressure off the squad and give them confidence heading into their two other Group B matches.
England are now the early leaders in Group B, with Iran propping up the table behind Wales and USA, who play later on Monday (kick-off 7pm).
England face USA in their second group game on Friday November 25, at 7pm, while Iran take on Wales on the same day at 10am.
The winners of Group B will face the runners-up from Group A, containing Netherlands, Senegal, Ecuador and hosts Qatar. The runner-up in Group B will face the winners of Group A.
Bukayo Saka's last touch for England at a major tournament led to the worst moment of his professional career - but he showed against Iran that he has carried no baggage into the World Cup.
The Arsenal winger, one of Gareth Southgate's favourites, justified his selection over the likes of Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish with a two-goal performance.
Saka's left foot, cutting in from the right, brings balance to the England attack while he can also be trusted to help his full-back. That was all evident in his fine display at the Khalifa International Stadium with his first goal, a sumptuous volley that clipped the underside of the crossbar, sparking England's tournament well and truly into life.
He showed his composure in the second half to cut into the box and find the bottom corner while constantly giving the Iran defence something to worry about.
Saka, still only 21, now has the experience and confidence to become one of England's main men in Qatar.
England's Bukayo Saka told BBC:
"I can't describe the feeling. It's just amazing and I'm so proud. It's a really special day.
"We needed that good start as we hadn't played at our best coming into this tournament but we showed everyone how much quality we had and what we can do. We have to be consistent as we have another game in a few days [against USA] and we have to win again.
"I feel I'm in a good place, I feel the support from the fans and the coaching staff and the team mates. I gave 100 per cent today and I'll continue to do that whenever I put the shirt on."