SPORTS

Match Report: England 6-2 Iran: Saka at the double as Three Lions start with a roar

Bukayo Saka scored twice as England made a flying start to their World Cup campaign by thrashing Iran 6-2 at the Khalifa International Stadium on Monday.

Bukayo Saka celebrates after scoring England's second goal against Iran

Saka – whose penalty miss proved decisive in the Euro 2020 final last year – netted a stunning volley to help Gareth Southgate’s side take a 3-0 lead into half-time, before he doubled up after the break.

With Iran crumbling after goalkeeper Alireza Beyranvand suffered a nasty head injury early on, Jude Bellingham set the tone by scoring his first international goal, while Raheem Sterling prodded home England’s third.

Mehdi Taremi denied England a clean sheet with a powerful finish, but substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish responded as the Three Lions sent out a message to their Group B rivals despite Taremi scoring a very late second from the penalty spot.

Harry Maguire was a nuisance in the opposition box and saw an early penalty appeal waved away before powering a header against the crossbar in the 32nd minute.

Three minutes later, Bellingham diverted Luke Shaw’s hanging cross into the top-right corner with a fine looping header.

With Iran struggling to contain the Three Lions, Maguire nodded a corner into the path of Saka to unleash a fierce volley into the top-right corner and double England’s lead.

Southgate’s rampant side then made it 3-0 in first-half stoppage time when Sterling cutely diverted home Harry Kane’s right-wing cross.

There was no sign of England slowing down after the break, as Saka clinched his brace by cutting inside to drill a low finish beyond Iran substitute Hossein Hosseini.

Taremi denied England a clean sheet by firing in off the crossbar, but substitutes Rashford and Grealish produced composed finishes as the Three Lions extended their lead to 6-1.

There was one last piece of action when Taremi converted from the spot at the end of stoppage time after a VAR check contentiously ruled he was fouled by John Stones.

What does it mean? England off to a flyer

While England were the only team to reach at least the semi-finals at both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, many supporters were apprehensive regarding the Three Lions’ chances after they failed to win any of their first six competitive matches in 2022.

However, Southgate’s men could hardly have wished for a better start in Qatar as they put Iran to the sword, falling narrowly short of matching 2018’s 6-1 rout of Panama – which remains their most comprehensive World Cup win.

A fast start paid off for England as they hit the net three times in the opening half of a World Cup game for just the fourth time, having previously done so also against Poland in 1986, Denmark in 2002 and Panama in 2018.

Hey Jude!

The role of Bellingham has been a key talking point throughout the build-up to England’s campaign in Qatar, and the Borussia Dortmund star showcased the full extent of his all-round game during a dominant performance.

At the age of 19 years, 145 days, Bellingham became the second-youngest England player to score at a World Cup after Michael Owen against Romania in 1998 (18 years, 190 days), as well as the first man born in 2000 or later to score at the tournament overall.

Bellingham also played a key role in England’s third goal as he strode through midfield to feed Kane, and he did not misplace any of his 40 passes attempted in the opening half, 10 of which came in the final third.

Saka shines 

Ahead of Monday’s game, Saka’s international career had been defined by his costly penalty miss in England’s Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy. However, the Arsenal winger carried his exemplary club form onto the international stage by tormenting the Iranian backline.

Coming after Bellingham’s header, Saka’s first goal meant England saw two different players aged 21 or younger net in the same World Cup match for the first time in their history.

In the second half, at 21 years and 77 days old, Saka became the youngest player to score twice for England in a World Cup match.

Key Opta Facts:

– England (6-2) recorded their biggest ever victory in their opening match at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) and scored six-plus goals in a major tournament match (World Cup/Euros) for the only the second time in their history, also doing so against Panama at World Cup 2018 (6-1).
– Gareth Southgate has won more matches at major tournaments (World Cup/Euros) than any other England manager (9 wins), surpassing Alf Ramsey’s total of eight wins.
– With goals from Bellingham (19 years) and Saka (21 years), England had two players aged 21 or under both score in a single World Cup game for the first time in their history.
– England have won all 16 games in all competitions when Sterling has found the net, with Monday’s strike his first ever World Cup goal in what was his 10th appearance in the competition.

What’s next?

England’s second game in Group B sees them take on the United States at Al Bayt Stadium on Friday, while Iran face Wales at the Al Rayyan Stadium on the same day.

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