England could not have wished for a better start to their 2022 World Cup campaign as they brushed aside an uninspired Iran side with goals from Bellingham, Saka, Sterling, Rashford and Grealish.
The match started slowly after Iran’s keeper Alirez Beiranvand suffered a head injury as he came for a cross and clashed with a teammate. It took more than eight minutes for the keeper to be removed from the pitch despite strict concussion protocol being introduced by FIFA for the tournament.
Shortly after the match restarted, England’s Harry Maguire came close with a powerful header that crashed against the bar.
Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham then opened the scoring in the 35th minute, guiding in a header from a whipped cross from Luke Shaw.
Maguire was involved in England’s second in the 43rd minute after cushioning Shaw’s cross and setting up Bukayo Saka, who fired the ball into the top right corner.
Raheem Sterling made it three before the break after meeting a Harry Kane cross and steering the ball in the bottom right.
The Three Lions continued to dominate in the second half, with Saka grabbing his second as he danced past a few Iranian defenders and steered it into the bottom corner.
Iranian fans, who had been vocal during the first half, began to leave just as Mehdi Taremi lashed a fine strike past a helpless Jordan Pickford.
However, any hope for Iran was short-lived, as Marcus Rashford grabbed a fifth just a few minutes after being brought on by Manager Gareth Southgate. The Manchester United forward showed remarkable composure, taking a couple of touches before stroking it into the bottom corner.
It was set to go from bad to worse for Team Melli after another substitute, Jack Grealish, struck a sixth, casually passing the ball past the Iranian defence and into the bottom corner.
As the game moved into 10 minutes of injury time, Iran were awarded a penalty after a video assistant referee (VAR) review. Taremi calmly slotted in his side’s second consolation goal to muted celebrations from his teammates.
Today’s victory will be a huge morale boost for England, who will be clear favourites to top the group, which includes Wales and the USA.
Iran will need a much better performance if they are to stand any chance of progressing. They have never made it past the group stage at a World Cup.
The win against Iran is now England’s second-best World Cup performance after their 6-1 triumph against Panama back in 2018.
The game, billed as a sporting display as well as one with geopolitical undertones, started on a controversial note as the Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem at the start of the game.
It was a striking act of solidarity with protesters back at home, a situation that began in September when a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, died while in the custody of the Iranian morality police.
Protests have since spread across the nation, challenging the authority of the government even as security forces have cracked down. Hundreds of people have died in the violence.
Before Monday’s game, there were chants of “Say her name, Mahsa Amini” among protesters outside the stadium.