England 6, Iran 2 (World Cup Group)
Bukayo Saka scored a brace as England hit six goals past Iran to take an early lead in their World Cup group.Embed from Getty Images
By the end of the rousing victory, under pressure England boss Gareth Southgate was being serenaded by stunned fans who couldn’t quite believe their team had scored six goals again in a World Cup finals game.
All of Southgate’s selection choices paid off, with even Manchester United captain Harry Maguire starting the move that led to Jude Bellingham’s goal, hitting the woodwork with a header, and being denied a penalty.
There had been more controversy in the run up to the game when it had been revealed that the OneLove rainbow armband which was set to be worn by England captain Harry Kane was not worn after FIFA made it clear that such gestures would attract an instant booking.
And Iran’s players pointedly refused to sing their own national anthem in as gesture of support for civilians back at home protesting about human rights.
FIFA’s 20th ranked side Iran had looked set to defend deep and frustrate England and for a while that looked on the cards until their goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand had to be taken off with suspected concussion after clashing heads with a team mate.
The interruption disrupted the Iranians who folded after England broke the deadlock with a 35th minute header by Jude Bellingham laid on by Manchester United left back Luke Shaw.
A two goal salvo by Saka and Raheem Sterling just before half time put Gareth Southgate’s men 3-0 up and in full control.
Saka scored his second after 62 minutes before the Iranians pulled a goal back through Porto striker Mehdi Taremi three minutes later.
Marcus Rashford restored that four goal lead just 49 seconds after coming on as a substitute before his fellow substitute Jack Grealish added a sixth goal for England in the last minute after an unselfish square ball by Callum Wilson.
It was the culmination of a record breaking 35 pass move – the most by any side in a World Cup finals since records began in 1966 – and prompted a unique celebration from the Manchester City man who promised to perform a dance when he next scored for a young City fan with cerebral palsy called Finlay a month ago.
Both sides had hit the woodwork during the game but Iran had the final word 13 minutes into injury time when Taremi slotted home a penalty – sending Jordan Pickford the wrong way after a VAR check on a soft John Stones foul saw the spot kick given.
England will face USA and Wales in their remaining group games as their bid to qualify from the group got off to a flying start.