England sent the rest of the competition a timely reminder that they are very much a team to be taken seriously at the Qatar World Cup, when they thrashed Iran 6-2 at the Khalifa Stadium this afternoon (November 21). They arrived without a win in their last six international matches, and not really being considered as genuine challengers by several “experts”, but a few shrewd judges have them marked down as finalists in the making, and because of that, obvious contenders for the trophy itself.
There will definitely be a few of the “big boys” sitting up and taking notice of this result and worryingly for the rest of the nations, manager Gareth Southgate said afterwards that he was a little disappointed, and that he felt there was a lot more to come from his team.
Bellingham given deserved opportunity
England have often played with three centre-back recently, but reverted back to a flat back-four for this one, with Manchester United’s Harry Maguire earning a spot, despite being unable to get a game for his club side in the Premier League. This allowed Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham to come into the side in a three man midfield, and the 19 year old went on to have a game to remember.
Bright start sees England take total control
The Three Lions began brightly and had the Iranians on the back foot and struggling to get out of their own half. There was a lengthy interruption when goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand clattered into a team-mate Majid Hosseini and suffered suspected concussion, causing him to need to be replaced.
This though had no real bearing on what followed as England proceeded to take their opponents apart and it was Bellingham who set things rolling with his first goal for his country. He timed his run into the box to meet a Luke Shaw cross perfectly with a great header, like a seasoned international.
Two more goals followed before half time, from Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka’s excellent strike from just inside the penalty area and Raheem Sterling’s first time finish from a Harry Kane’s cross. After the break Saka scored again, before Mehdi Taremi scored a terrific goal to reduce the arrears. A raft of substitutions followed and one of the replacements, Marcus Rashford added a fifth, then just to put a gloss on the performance, two of the other substitutes combined, with Callum Wilson unselfishly setting up Jack Grealish for England’s sixth.
England cruise to comfortable opening victory
In the final minute of stoppage time the Brazilian referee awarded Iran a very soft penalty, especially when considering in the first half he had missed a rugby tackle on Maguire that was bordering on an indecent assault. Taremi slotted the spot-kick away to give them a touch of respectability, if that is ever possible when conceding six.
In truth they were completely outclassed by an impressive English outfit, for whom Bellingham was sensational. They will now go onto their other two fixtures in Group B, against the USA and Wales, in confident mood.
Boss not satisfied which is not good news for next opponents
Speaking after the game England boss Southgate was concerned with the two sloppy goals conceded but was happy with the attacking prowess of his exciting young players. He said: Our pressing and movement was really good, so I have got to be really happy but we should not be conceding two goals at that stage in the game.” He described the lacklustre finish to the game as a consequence of the scoreline at the time and the excessive stoppage time played due to earlier injuries.
“We lost some focus and a bit of concentration and when we play at a slow tempo we are nowhere near as effective,” he said. The victory now means Southgate has won more matches at major tournaments than any other England manager, with his nine wins surpassing the hero of 1966 Sir Alf Ramsey’s total of eight wins.
Young scorers look to next game
Bellingham after his man of the match performance was naturally thrilled with his goal, but remained level headed, preferring to focus on the games to come. He became England’s second youngest goalscorer in World Cup history, just behind Michael Owen who was 18 years and 190 days old when he scored back in the French World Cup of 1998. Saka was a little less restrained with his after-match comments saying: “I can’t describe the feeling, it is amazing, I am so happy and so proud and can’t wait for the next match.”
Pressure possibly placed on United States
Next up for England are the USA who will now be viewing the fixture with a little more trepidation, having seen just what attacking options are at Southgate’s disposal, and more importantly how when the click, they pretty much can destroy any opponent.