England v Iran, reaction, analysis
One image should send shivers through the rest of the world.
With England absolutely cruising at 4-1 against Iran at the World Cup, manager Gareth Southgate looked to his bench.
Most teams in Qatar could only dream of having the weapons the Three Lions have in reserve.
In the 71st minute, England introduced Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish – three players that would surely be in the starting 11 of every other team at the World Cup.
Speaking after the game, former England international Gary Neville said: “That talent coming off the bench – Grealish, Rashford, (Phil) Foden – it is frightening what we’ve got.”
“It’s massive for Gareth today that he’s been able to use so many players off the bench and they’re all going to come off confident. The goals are absolutely outstanding.”
England made a scintillating start to their World Cup campaign as Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham inspired a 6-2 rout of outclassed Iran in Monday’s Group B opener in Doha.
Saka and Bellingham were England’s driving forces with dynamic displays that underlined their emergence as two of the game’s brightest young stars.
Bellingham, 19, shattered Iran’s hopes of frustrating England when he rose to head his maiden senior international goal in the first half.
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But it’s what is in reserve that should have rivals worrying. And at the first World Cup when coaches can use five substitutes rather than three, it could be a game changer.
And this is all without captain Harry Kane scoring.
The fact Grealish and Rashford both got on the scoresheet shows just how much talent Southgate has at his disposal.
To be fair, an already defeated Iran outfit is hardly the biggest obstacle these super subs will face, but it does show the depth of this England squad.
At a time when Australia has no Premier League players in its squad, England is content having hundreds of millions of dollars of talent on its bench.
England should feel confident to finish top of its group after the 6-2 demolition, with the United States up next and then rivals Wales.
England fans are used to getting ahead of themselves, but this opening performance was more deserving of praise than previous limp efforts at the World Cup.
Southgate’s side were in sparkling form at the Khalifa International Stadium and goals from Saka and Raheem Sterling put them in complete control before halftime.
Saka, 21, netted again after the interval and, although Mehdi Taremi struck twice for Iran, Rashford and Grealish completed the demolition.
There will be far sterner tests to come for England as they bid to win their first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup.
But this was a welcome step in the right direction for Southgate, whose team arrived in Qatar on a six-match winless run that triggered scathing criticism of the Three Lions boss and his perceived negative tactics.
The only concern for Southgate was the sight of Harry Maguire being replaced in the second half after being checked for a potential head injury.
Just hours before kick-off, England revealed captain Harry Kane would not wear a rainbow-themed “One Love” armband after the Football Association and several other European countries dropped their campaign in support of LGBTQ rights.
Because the armband was not a FIFA-approved piece of kit, it was reported any player wearing it would be booked – a risk England were apparently unwilling to take.
Having reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 before losing to Italy in the Euro 2020 final, England is desperate to take the last step to silverware in Doha.
Southgate had urged his team to “play on the front foot” and they responded in style, after initially finding their rhythm disrupted by a long delay when Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand smashed into teammate Majid Hosseini.
Despite being in no state to continue amid fears of a concussion, the bloodied Beiranvand played on before finally being substituted.
England eventually penned Iran deep inside their own half and Bellingham delivered in the 35th minute.
Sterling found Luke Shaw on the left flank and his cross was perfectly weighted for Bellingham, who looped a fine header into the far corner.
Playing for Birmingham in the Championship just two years ago, the Borussia Dortmund star’s goal made him England’s second youngest scorer at a World Cup behind Michael Owen.
Eight minutes later another of England’s gifted prodigies doubled the lead. Maguire headed down a corner and Arsenal forward Saka swivelled to lash a superb left-foot finish into the top corner.
Sterling put the result beyond doubt with his first goal at a World Cup in first-half stoppage time.
Bellingham fed Kane, whose pinpoint cross was volleyed home by Sterling with the outside of his boot.
Saka made it four in the 62nd minute when he shuffled across the Iran area before stroking his shot past Hossein Hosseini.
Taremi fired into the roof of the net to reduce the deficit three minutes later. Rashford’s cool finish in the 71st minute, 49 seconds after he came on, was followed by Grealish’s 90th-minute tap-in.
Taremi struck from the penalty spot with the last kick of the game after a shirt pull by John Stones, but the margin of victory reflected England’s total dominance.
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