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Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish also got on the scoresheet as the Three Lions ran out 6-2 winners in Qatar
The preparations weren’t perfect. Recent results weren’t good. And yet England still kicked off their World Cup campaign in sensational style on Monday afternoon, routing Iran 6-2 at a windy Khalifa International Stadium on Monday afternoon.
Jude Bellingham opened the scoring with a towering header before Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling both struck just before the break to make it 3-0 to the Three Lions.
There would be no let-up against overmatch opposition after the restart either, with Saka helping himself to a second goal before Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish came off the bench to put the seal on statement win.
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Below, GOAL runs through all of the winners and losers from England’s dream start to Qatar 2022…
Bukayo Saka England 2022Getty Images
Dortmund’s bank balance:
How Borussia Dortmund must have enjoyed this game. Firstly, there was the sight of one of their own scoring his first international goal, and then being serenaded with ‘Hey Jude’ by adoring English fans. Then, and perhaps more importantly, the knowledge that with the kind of towering header more befitting an old-school No.9, Jude Bellingham had probably added another few million to his asking price. Dortmund know the England midfielder is going to leave Signal Iduna Park next summer. It’s sad, but inevitable. Bellingham has long been destined to sign for one of Europe’s elite. He hammered that home during the group stage of this season’s Champions League. But the World Cup is an even grander stage. Some players shine solely for a month and end up commanding colossal fees. So, Dortmund can pretty much name their price for a teenage prodigy like Bellingham. And it will be met; the kid is a generational talent.
Yes, it was only Iran. Yes, there will be some concerns over the concession of two goals. Yes, Southgate will be ultimately judged on where England end up. But this was a fine way for the England boss to kick off his campaign. Statistically speaking, of course, Southgate is doing a better job with the Three Lions than any manager since Sir Alf Ramsey, but he’s had his critics. There have been constant allegations of costly conservatism, particularly since last summer’s Euro 2020 final loss to Italy, and they intensified during a dismal National League campaign this year. So, while England were always expected to win their opener, there was some pressure on Southgate to get his selection right, to prove that he can get the best out of what is a great crop of players. And he did just that on Monday. Southgate’s big call was vindicated, with Bukayo Saka, who was picked ahead of Phil Foden, scoring two fine goals. However, Southgate also deserves credit for sticking with Raheem Sterling, who has struggled since leaving Manchester City for Chelsea during the summer, but proved once again that he loves a big international tournament.
It’s only right that the Arsenal man is singled out for special praise. After all, we’re talking about the youngest player to score two goals on their World Cup debut since Franz Beckenbauer. Southgate definitely deserves his plaudits for putting his faith in Saka. But Saka was the one who had to deliver, and he did just that. In sensational fashion. His first goal was a thumping volley, his second a neat finish after a lovely jinking run. Despite his decent return in terms of goals and assists so far this season, there was an undeniable feeling at the Emirates that Saka had yet to quite catch fire. He picked a perfect time to do so!
Alireza Beiranvand Iran 2022Getty Images
FIFA’s rules are clear: if a player is showing signs of concussion, he must be removed from the field. So, how on earth was Alireza Beyranvand allowed to briefly continue after suffering a head injury in an accidental collision with team-mate Majid Hosseini? It was clear to every single person inside the Khalifa International Stadium that the goalkeeper was in no fit state to play on, given how unsteady he was on his feet – and this after receiving close to 10 minutes of treatment from the medics. Consequently, there was not only sympathy in the stands for Beyranvand when was belatedly stretched from the field, but also bewilderment bordering on anger. Serious questions need to be asked about the enforcement of the concussion protocol – chief among them, who made the decision to allow the Iran No.1 to continue. It’s been clear for some time that football still has a serious problem with how it deals with head injuries. A fact that was hammered home on the game’s grandest stage on Monday afternoon. Seriously, how long before such negligence proves fatal?
There was a massive queue at the media entrance at the stadium four hours before kick-off. Journalists from all across the world wanted to get to the ground early to ensure that they were present – ostensibly to watch England play Iran, but primarily to see whether a group of men would be able to wear an armband. That is an inescapable truth. The build-up to this fixture was completely overshadowed by a shameful and ridiculous row involving FIFA and several European football associations, including England’s, over a small show of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. FIFA made it clear on the morning of the game that they would not allow England and the other six teams to wear their OneLove armbands – and they got their way. The game’s governing body will rightly bear the brunt of the criticism, but all of the FAs involved should not escape criticism. They could have taken a real stand here. And the same goes for the players, too. They could have collectively called FIFA’s bluff, dared them to reduce the game to a farce by booking each captain for an armband. Instead, they backed down. And a real opportunity to provoke a difficult but long overdue conversation was missed. Nonetheless, the feeling persists among everyone here in Qatar that football has reached its tipping point, and that it really could go either way: radical reform or complete collapse.
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