England are up and running at the World Cup after a thumping of Iran, 6-2.
This is the second consecutive tournament when England scored six goals in a group stage game. Four years ago, the Three Lions hit six past Panama in the second of three group stage games.
That year, England went on to extra time of the semifinals, only to finish fourth. It hopes this six-goal outburst has more in store.
Although Iran never made it out of the group stage in five previous tournaments, it is a strong team. In 2018, Iran only conceded just two goals in the group stage. That was one against Portugal, and one against Spain.
The first half an hour of the game was very stop-start. A major head injury to Iran No. 1 Beyranvand early in the first half delayed the game and resulted in 14 minutes of injury time added. Then, the second-half stoppage time was 10 minutes.
The positives for England
With Jude Bellingham’s opener for England after the half hour mark, England found the breakthrough. There was a collective exhale as the The Three Lions continued to dominate and reached halftime 3-0 up.
The standout performers from the first half were Bellingham and Saka. Saka showed no sign of nerves after the jarring experience of missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final. Bellingham, at only 19 years old, showed he was years ahead in maturity. The midfield was dominated by the Dortmund player and West Ham captain Declan Rice.
Across the field, the England team oozed confidence against lesser opponents. This was not the nervy England performance of tournaments past. Rather, this was an England team with experience and confidence aplenty. It was a ruthless and professional performance.
A triple substitution in the 71st minute brought on Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden. For almost any nation, those three would start with ease. The strength of England’s squad was plain to see.
Even Harry Maguire gave a fairly good account of himself. However, a head injury in the second half stunted a performance resembling his days of yesteryear. The centerback hit the crossbar with a strong header before Bellingham’s opener. Erik ten Hag will question the defender’s form in a Manchester United shirt after seeing Maguire playing so confidently. It is no surprise considering the Harry Maguire from Euro 2020 and the 2018 World Cup.
The cause for concern
In the second half, England furthered their lead with a second goal from Bukayo Saka to make it 4-0. Everything was looking solid. Minutes later, however, Mehdi Taremi showed one of England’s major weaknesses as he pulled one back for Iran. Taremi, who has 13 goals for Porto so far this season, added a second in the dying moments through a penalty.
Conceding two goals when you’ve scored six is obviously not a crisis. However, it does reveal apparent weaknesses in the England setup. The Iran penalty was debatable, but the first goal by Taremi showed how to attack England at the back.
Taremi left Harry Maguire flat-footed as he moved into the space between the center backs and produced a stunning finish. Though Harry Maguire put on a good showing overall, this goal highlighted the concerns of playing him with two center-backs as opposed to three.
It is easy to overlook this goal when England routed Iran with six of their own. While England move further into the tournament, as they are expected to, stronger teams will look to expose this chink in the armor. Maguire’s injury may rule him out of the next game against the USA on Friday. If England line up with Maguire in the same place as today’s game, it will only be a matter of time before another player cuts the center backs in half and it could be more costly for England next time.
England defeat Iran to set World Cup off
After the game, Southgate expressed how “annoying” it was to concede the two goals.
If they are to play deep into the tournament they will need to tighten up at the back. The Brazil’s and France’s of the tournament will expect to score against any opponent. To go far, England will need to show they can manage the threat. The game against the USA will be a better indicator of how strong the England team are at the moment. The true test of England’s mettle, however, is likely to come in the next round or two. Today’s statement win was a big step in the right direction.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Xinhua
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