Qatar’s DOHA — With a 6-2 hammering of Iran, England began their 2022 World Cup campaign in impressive fashion, led by a brace from Bukayo Saka and contributions from Jude Bellingham, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, and Jack Grealish.
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Before halftime, Sterling and Saka helped Gareth Southgate’s team build a comfortable 3-0 lead. Bellingham scored his first goal for England in the 35th minute.
Before Mehdi Taremi scored a consolation goal for Iran just beyond the hour mark, Saka put England further out of reach with a magnificent individual effort. However, substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish added gloss to the Three Lions’ Group B opener despite a stoppage-time penalty from Taremi.
1. Iran makes a political statement, whereas England makes a football one
As England wanted to make a political statement on a day that started with a debate over anti-discrimination One Love armbands, Gareth Southgate’s team made a footballing statement by sweeping to a convincing victory. Just three hours prior to kickoff, England decided against wearing the armband despite the prospect of a yellow card for captain Harry Kane due to FIFA’s refusal to offer special dispensation to the seven nations preparing to wear the armband.
However, neither the argument nor the 10-minute delay caused by Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand trying to play through a concussion before calling for his own replacement in a peculiar and perplexing illustration of the claimed regulations had much of an impact on England’s performance. At the Khalifa International Stadium, what on paper appeared to be a difficult match was turned into a relative breeze by three goals in an 11-minute flurry.
Despite the fact that England took a knee prior to the game to reiterate the anti-racism message they had previously given during the postponed European Championship last summer. The Iranian athletes, on the other hand, chose not to participate in the national anthem prior to the game. There have been protests in Iran for more than two months now, but no one from their camp has publicly said why.
Bellingham justifies the hype to inspire optimism in England
Since his team’s journey to the Euro 2020 final in 2018, Jude Bellingham’s emergence as a central midfielder, who can contribute dynamism and ingenuity to an area of the field England has lacked for years, has been the biggest change in the England squad. As a result, there was a lot riding on the 19-year-old, who was making only his ninth international debut and who on Monday became the third-youngest man to start an England World Cup game.
It went about as well as it could have. After 35 minutes, Bellingham expertly rose to drive a beautiful header past Luke Shaw for the game’s first goal. This was the crowning achievement of a first half in which he successfully completed all 40 of his attempted passes, 10 of which came in the attacking third. He scored the World Cup goal, becoming the first player born in this century to do it. The third goal by England came from Bellingham, who drove forward and found Kane, who then set up Raheem Sterling for a close-range first-time finish.
Bellingham’s deft ball handling already appears to be crucial to providing England’s offensive players with the kind of support they need to succeed. Although there is still plenty to do, this was
3. England puts its best foot forward following system change
According to critics of England manager Gareth Southgate, his team is overly cautious while playing with a back three, but they tend to be more aggressive when using a back four. Southgate’s perspective is influenced by how England consistently performed poorly in tournaments before he was appointed in 2016 — losing the ball in midfield and being too predictable in open play, to name just two examples — and he frequently prefers the security of an additional central defender to help balance out these limitations.
Although there is a growing argument that this group of players is talented enough to be trusted to play without the inherent caution, Southgate’s side brimmed with flair and invention, so the decision to deploy England in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 shape here rather than the 3-4-3 used in previous matches was the right one. A tightly packed and well-drilled Iranian team, albeit one that was blatantly committed to defending until the game was lost, was unable to compete, and the depth of attacking skill at Southgate’s disposal was demonstrated by the goals scored by replacements Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish.
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