England kicked-off their 2022 FIFA World Cup campaign in the best way possible after they dismantled Iran 6-2 at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Monday’s Group B opener.
Despite losing heavily, Iran, who were ranked 20th in the FIFA World Rankings, showed some excellent fighting spirit against heavy favorites England, although their defenses unraveled once starting goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand was forced off the pitch with a concussion in the 19th minute.
The match was overshadowed by Iranian fans booing their own national anthem prior to kick-off, with the Iran players also refusing to sing along with it. These acts were in support towards the antigovernmental protests happing across Iran, which was sparked by the death in custody of a 22-year old woman named Mahsa Amini, who was detained by the Iranian moral police for improperly wearing her hijab before being allegedly beaten to death by them. The Iranian government are violently cracking down on these protests, which was understandably met with worldwide outrage.
The England camp were also overshadowed by controversy prior to Monday’s match, with captain Harry Kane alongside the captains of six other European nations being denied permission to use special OneLove armbands for the match. The OneLove movement, which promotes LGBTQ+ rights as well as diversity and inclusivity, was a controversial topic in Qatar, a conservative Muslim country, and FIFA has decided to forbid Kane and the other captains from promoting the movement with the threat of sporting sanctions should they wear the armbands associated with the movement.
Both England and Iran were evenly matched during the opening 20 minutes of the tie, however the Team Melli were deprived of their number one shot-stopper Beiranvand following a collision with teammate Majid Hosseini. With Persepolis goalkeeper Beiranvand suffering a concussion from the collision, Iran manager Carlos Queiroz had to sub him off for backup goalie Hossein Hosseini.
15 minutes after Beiranvand’s exit, Jude Bellingham broke the deadlock for England with a flying header from a Luke Shaw cross, before the Three Lions assumed total control of the match with two more goals before the break – a 43rd minute effort from Bukayo Saka and a strike from Raheem Sterling one minute into stoppage time.
Arsenal star Saka then completed his brace in the 62nd minute, before FC Porto attacker Mehdi Taremi gave Iran something to cheer for with his 65th minute goal. Subsittute Marcus Rashford then made it 5-1 in the 71st minute before Jack Grealish scored England’s sixth of the game right at the 90th minute.
A lengthy injury time allowed Taremi to complete his brace with virtually the last kick of the game, a penalty that amounted nothing more than just consolation for Iran.
England will have tougher matches in Group B with the United States and Wales waiting for them, but their huge win over Iran would provide the Three Lions with the perfect foundation to build upon, following a dismal run of form in the run-up towards the World Cup.
Iran, on the other hand, will also have tough challenges waiting for them but at least they won’t be as daunting as England, at least slightly less. But they will be pleased that they’ve sent their message of defiance towards their own government to the world, hoping to raise more attention towards the Mahsa Amini debacle as well as the overall women’s rights issue in Iran.
Monday’s other matches saw the Netherlands seeing off Senegal with a 2-0 win over at Group A thanks to two late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen, while back in Group B both Wales and the USA played out a 1-1 draw in the former’s first World Cup match in 64 years. Gareth Bale scored an 82nd minute penalty to salvage a point for Wales after Timothy Weah, son of Liberia great George Weah, gave the USA the lead in the 36th minute.