England have won their first game of the 2022 World Cup tournament, beating Iran 6-2 at the 40,000-capacity Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
The group B fixture kicked off at 4pm Qatari time, 1pm in the UK, with temperatures hitting the mid-twenties.
Harry Kane did not sport the unsanctioned ‘OneLove’ armband after a last-minute u-turn. Martin Rickett
England manager Gareth Southgate made just two changes from the Euro 2020 final defeat last summer as he stuck with a tried and tested side in their World Cup opener against Iran.
Bukayo Saka, who missed the decisive penalty in the shootout loss to Italy, came into the team alongside Jude Bellingham, with Southgate seemingly setting up with a back four.
Without a win in six games, the England boss stuck with the players he knows, with Harry Kane, not set to sport the unsanctioned ‘OneLove’ armband after a last-minute u-turn, captaining the side.
Jordan Pickford was recalled in goal having missed the September international break due to injury.
There was also a start for Harry Maguire, despite the fact he has been dropped by Manchester United in recent weeks.
Having reached the semi-finals four years ago and finished as Euros runners-up last summer, the Three Lions arrived among the favourites despite a six-match winless run and Nations League relegation.
England ended that wait for a victory in style on Monday as superb Saka scored twice in his first major tournament appearance since missing his spot-kick in last year’s European Championship final defeat to Italy.
Marcus Rashford has not represented the national team at all since missing his attempt in that shootout and scored within minutes of coming on in a thumping win that Jude Bellingham, Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish also scored in.
It was a remarkable way to start the tournament, with the Group B opener a night to savour given the challenging build-up to a tournament mired in controversies and questions about hosts Qatar’s suitability.
Saka doubled the lead before the break. Nick Potts
Rashford, needed just seconds to make it 5-1 with a cool finish. Martin Rickett
FIFA cited a technicality to prevent England wearing a rainbow armband in a country where homosexuality is outlawed, while the governing body’s care for fans and players is sure to come under further scrutiny.
There were empty seats at the Khalifa International Stadium due to its shoddy ticketing system and the fact Iran goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand was able to continue before leaving with suspected concussion was appalling.
As a result of that there was 14 minutes of stoppage time at the end of a first half to cherish for Southgate’s side in Al Rayyan. Teenager Bellingham expertly headed home his first international goal before Saka smashed home a stunning strike complemented by Sterling.
Saka added another before Mehdi Taremi scored for Iran, who were relieved that the Three Lions only managed to add two more through substitutes Rashford and Grealish.
England were on course to match their biggest World Cup win, only for Taremi to score a last-gasp penalty.