England cruised into a 3-0 halftime lead in their World Cup Group B opener against Iran on Monday with teenager Jude Bellingham scoring his first international goal and Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling also on target.
Bellingham headed in a cross from the left by Luke Shaw in the 35th minute to reward England’s domination, Saka found the top corner with a left-foot shot in the 43rd minute and Sterling poked in a third from Harry Kane’s pass two minutes later.
Iran suffered a torrid first half and had to replace goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand after he sustained a head injury following a collision with team mate Hosseini Majid, resulting in 14 minutes of stoppage time.
Saka then doubled his tally before second half substitutes, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish scored one each to see off Iran who scored two goals including a penalty.
Captain Harry Kane was not among the goals but industry prove vital for England going forward.
Bellingham & Saka show class
It is almost impossible to deliver any firm judgement on England’s World Cup prospects given the paucity of Iran’s opposition but this could hardly have gone better for Southgate as his one major selection decision reaped a rich dividend and the result was almost perfect.
Iran were expected to provide stern resistance as they reside in the top 20 in the FIFA rankings and have a recent victory against Uruguay on their record but England made light work of the task once Bellingham gave them the lead.
Bellingham is being touted as one of the big emerging names at this World Cup, the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund star already a target for a host of the game’s elite names.
And, even in the context of this game, Bellingham showed exactly why as he joined Saka as the dominant force in this game, scoring his first England goal with a magnificent header and bestriding midfield with a complete authority that belied his years.
This was only the second time England have scored six goals in a major tournament but on this evidence you would not bet against the brilliant Bellingham being involved the next time it happens.
Bellingham is a player with the world at his feet and a long career ahead of him at international level.
Southgate picked Saka ahead of Manchester City’s Phil Foden, the only mildly contentious decision in his line-up, but there can be no arguments after a hugely impressive performance from the 21-year-old who has played such a big part as Arsenal head the Premier League.
Saka scored twice and was a threat throughout and thoroughly deserved the warm applause he received when he was substituted.
It will get harder for England as they now face the United States and Wales but this was the perfect start.
Iran outclassed but send message
Iran suffered the early blow of losing goalkeeper Beiranvand to suspected concussion after a clash of heads with a team-mate but this was never going to change the course of the game given the chasm in class between the two teams.
Iran coach Carlos Quieroz hinted at a bold approach beforehand but this was never going to be the case and once the game settled down following an opening 20 minutes littered with interruptions, this opening World Cup game was only going one way.
Iran’s many fans had a moment of real joy when Taremi thumped home his finish but there was little else to celebrate in this game as their team took a heavy beating.
This was not a day without great significance, however, as both Iran’s players and supporters used this global stage to make their feelings clear about the growing human rights protests against the ruling regime in their homeland.
The national anthem was shouted down by the supporters and none of the Iran players joined in.
Iran were heavily supported inside the Khalifa International Stadium and clearly regarded this as an ideal platform to make their grievances clear. The football itself gave them nothing to cheer but they were clearly determined to make this day count.