It’s hard not to be excited after England hit six past Iran in their opening game of the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The calls of ‘it’s coming home’ have reappeared around the country after an almost perfect start to their World Cup campaign.
England appeared relaxed and calm in the first half hour of the game, attempting to break down an Iran side that seemed to keep everyone behind the ball and keep England out for as long as possible.
The first significant chance came from a corner, with Harry Maguire hitting the bar after being denied a penalty in the early stages after being dragged down in the box; it went to VAR, but no change from the referee. After 35 minutes, England broke through when a brilliant cross from Luke Shaw was met by Jude Bellingham, who looped it over the goalkeeper to give England their first goal of the tournament and move into the top ten youngest World Cup goal scorers.
Only eight minutes later, England had a second. A header won by Harry Maguire found Bukayo Saka, who finished expertly into the roof of the net. Then only three minutes later, in the first of fourteen minutes of extra time, Harry Kane set up Raheem Sterling to tap in a third in a brilliant first half from England. It took England longer than expected for their next goal, achieved by Bukayo Saka, who cut in on his left foot and fired towards the far corner, leaving the Iranian goalkeeper, Hosseini, helpless.
Shortly after, the first blow for England lost in their own defensive third. Taremi sneaked into the six-yard box and smashed it off the bar’s underside to get one back for Iran. England had looked comfortable defensively, and questions were asked of Maguire, but he seemed to deal very well with the immense pressure. Following the Taremi goal, Maguire was subbed because he was feeling ill, and clearly, there was no need to take the risk.
Just minutes after coming on, Marcus Rashford added to the scoring, he was set free by Harry Kane, and it only took Marcus Rashford three touches to join in on a rampant display from England.
Jack Grealish scored the sixth and final goal for England. Callum Wilson unselfishly slid the ball across for Jack Grealish to finish the scoring for England.
Another somewhat negative for England came in the 103rd minute. John Stones gave away a very soft penalty, which seemed identical to the early Harry Maguire penalty appeal, and Taremi tucked away his second of the afternoon, which was the last kick of the game.
All in all, England seemed very comfortable throughout. Pickford didn’t have much to do, made a very good save one on one, and was defensively solid. The two centre-backs, Maguire and Stones, looked composed on the ball, relaxed. Fullbacks were given the license to go forward.
Trippier and Shaw were both involved in goals. Luke Shaw crossed for Bellingham’s opener, and Trippier delivered the corner, which Saka eventually smashed in. Rice and Bellingham ran the show, breaking up many Iranian counterattacks, with Bellingham getting the opener but controlling the play from the start; everything went through those two, setting the pace and breaking Iranian lines. Saka and Sterling played very well. Sterling was forced to do most of his work out wide, whilst Saka was allowed to cut in on his left foot, linking up with Kane and Mount. Both Saka and Sterling contributed goals in a very positive performance from both.
Mason Mount was quiet and didn’t get much of the ball. When he got it, he picked up pockets of space between Iranian lines and turned very well, injecting pace.
Harry Kane, despite scoring goals, played very well. His link-up play, especially with Sterling and Saka, proved vital to breaking down the defensive block that Iran had set up. It was a very positive performance which Gareth Southgate would be proud and excited of.
As Gareth Southgate looks forward to the next group stage games against the USA and Wales, he will be encouraged by England’s progress from their disappointing Nations League performances. England has gelled and found a style of play that suits the players at their disposal. The wide play with the two high attacking fullbacks, mixed with the ball playing midfielders of Rice and Bellingham, has combined to create a brilliant sense of identity for Gareth Southgate’s lions. After a stalemate between the other two nations in the group, England will look forward to a game against the USA. England will go in the significant favourites, and if they played at the pace and intensity with which they did against Iran, they should make easy work of a weaker nation and cement their placement in the further rounds of the Qatar World Cup.
Southgate will be pleased with how his team performed; however, a hangover from the game is Harry Kane’s injury concern; However, it is hoped that the injury is not too severe and that Harry Kane will be fit to play in the rest of England’s games. Of course, Gareth Southgate also has the return of England veteran Kyle Walker, who will significantly boost England’s back line.
Gareth Southgate will be excited about the possibilities of this squad and how far it can go. It may be too premature and early to jump to the conclusion of ‘it’s coming home’ and England advancing to a World Cup final, but it was an extremely positive start to a long and gruelling path to a World Cup final. There were a lot of questions sent Southgate’s way through the picking of the squad and the initial team, but it seems at the moment that the performance and the result answered those questions, and hopefully, that will last for the entirety of England’s 2022 World Cup campaign.