England made a flying start to their World Cup campaign on Monday, thrashing Iran 6-2 at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Saka, whose penalty miss proved decisive in last year’s Euro 2020 final, scored a stunning volley to help Gareth Southgate’s side take a 3-0 lead into half-time, before doubling his tally after the break.
With Iran in disarray after goalkeeper Alireza Beyranvand suffered a nasty head injury early on, Jude Bellingham scored his first international goal, and Raheem Sterling added England’s third.
Mehdi Taremi’s powerful finish denied England a clean sheet, but substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish responded as the Three Lions sent a message to their Group B opponents, despite Taremi scoring a late penalty spot.
Harry Maguire caused havoc in the opposition box, having an early penalty appeal turned down before powering a header against the crossbar in the 32nd minute.
Three minutes later, Bellingham used a fine looping header to divert Luke Shaw’s hanging cross into the top-right corner.
Maguire nodded a corner into the path of Saka, who unleashed a fierce volley into the top-right corner to double England’s lead.
Sterling cutely diverted home Harry Kane’s right-wing cross to make it 3-0 in first-half stoppage time for Southgate’s rampant side.
After the break, England showed no signs of slowing down, with Saka clinching his brace by cutting inside and drilling a low finish past Iran substitute Hossein Hosseini.
Taremi’s crossbar strike denied England a clean sheet, but substitutes Rashford and Grealish produced composed finishes as the Three Lions extended their lead to 6-1.
Taremi converted from the penalty spot at the end of stoppage time after a VAR check contentiously ruled he was fouled by John Stones.
What does it imply? England is off to a fast start.
While England was the only team to reach the semi-finals of both the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, many fans were skeptical of the Three Lions’ chances in 2022 after they failed to win any of their first six competitive matches.
Southgate’s men couldn’t have asked for a better start in Qatar, as they thrashed Iran 6-1, falling just short of matching last year’s 6-1 rout of Panama, which remains their most comprehensive World Cup victory.
England’s quick start paid off as they scored three goals in the first half of a World Cup game for the fourth time, having previously done so against Poland in 1986, Denmark in 2002, and Panama in 2018.
The role of Bellingham has been a major talking point in the build-up to England’s campaign in Qatar, and the Borussia Dortmund star demonstrated the breadth of his all-round game during a dominant performance.
Bellingham became the second-youngest England player to score in a World Cup after Michael Owen against Romania in 1998 (18 years, 190 days), as well as the first man born in 2000 or later to score at the tournament overall, at the age of 19 years, 145 days.
Bellingham also contributed to England’s third goal, stroking through midfield to feed Kane, and he completed all 40 passes attempted in the first half, 10 of which came in the final third.
Saka shines brightly.
Saka’s international career had been defined by his costly penalty miss in England’s Euro 2020 final loss to Italy. The Arsenal winger, on the other hand, carried his excellent club form onto the international stage, tormenting the Iranian backline.
Saka’s first goal, coming after Bellingham’s header, marked the first time in England’s history that two different players aged 21 or younger scored in the same World Cup match.
Saka, who is 21 years and 77 days old, became England’s youngest player to score twice in a World Cup match in the second half.
Facts about Opta:
- England (6-2) recorded their biggest ever victory in a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) opening match and scored six-plus goals in a major tournament match (World Cup/Euros) for only the second time in their history, also against Panama at World Cup 2018. (6-1).
- Gareth Southgate has won more major tournament matches (9 wins) than any other England manager, surpassing Alf Ramsey’s total of eight wins.
- England had two players aged 21 or underscore in a single World Cup game for the first time in their history, with goals from Bellingham (19 years) and Saka (21 years).
- Sterling’s goal on Monday was his first ever World Cup goal in his 10th appearance in the competition, and England has won all 16 games in all competitions when he has scored.
What comes next?
England’s second Group B game will be against the United States at Al Bayt Stadium on Friday, while Iran will face Wales at Al Rayyan Stadium on the same day.