England 6 – Iran 2: The Three Lions earn victory in tensed World Cup opener

England have won 6-2 against Iran in an energetic 2022 World Cup opening match.

Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling scored England’s first three goals within 15 minutes of each other at Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium.

Saka followed his first triumph with another in the second half, while Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish upped England’s total to six.

Earlier on Monday, it had seemed the fixture might be overshadowed by last minute political developments. Just hours away from kick-off, England captain Harry Kane was told not to wear an armband expressing solidarity with LGBT+ people or potentially face sanctions. Meanwhile, Iran’s team shunned their national anthem in solidarity with protestors back home.

Iran’s goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand was substituted within the first half, having collided with his teammate, Majid Hosseini. He was left with a bloody nose and was in need of on-pitch treatment for several minutes.

Shortly after the injury, midfielder Bellingham looped a header home from Luke Shaw’s cross.

Saka doubled the lead, thrashing home a fine volley from a Harry Maguire header.

With the fourth official signalling 14 minutes of added time, England grabbed their third through Raheem Sterling, who finished Kane’s cross after some great build-up from Southgate’s side.

Saka scored his second of the game after half-time, cutting in from the right to curl home.

Minutes after, Mehdi Tarebi was greeted by an almighty cheer after scoring Iran’s first goal.

Maguire was forced off in the immediate aftermath as Eric Dier came on, while Southgate replaced Saka, Sterling and Mount with Rashford, Grealish and Phil Foden.

Rashford, who like Saka was racially abused after missing from the spot against Italy, had not featured for England since that night but he needed just seconds to make it 5-1 with a cool finish.

Then, two more of Southgate’s substitutes combined for a late sixth – Wilson ran onto a Bellingham through-ball before crossing for Grealish’s second ever England goal.

Keeper Jordan Pickford made a superb stop from Iran’s Sardar Azmoun in the latter stages of 10 minutes of injury time before Iran were awarded a penalty.

Taremi sent Pickford the wrong way to reduce the arrears to 6-2 with the last kick of the game.

Goalscorer Rashford tweeted: “Words can’t express my happiness in scoring at the World Cup.

“Great performance from the team see you guys on Friday.”

Player of the match and scorer of England’s brace, Saka added on Twitter: “What A Feeling.”England manager Gareth Southgate had made just two changes from the Euro 2020 final defeat last summer as he stuck with a tried and tested side in their World Cup opener.

Saka, who missed the decisive penalty in the shootout loss to Italy, came into the team alongside Bellingham, with Southgate seemingly setting up with a back four.

Without a win in six games, the England boss stuck with the players he knows, with Harry Kane captaining the side.

Jordan Pickford was recalled in goal, having missed the September international break due to injury.

There was also a start for Harry Maguire, despite the fact he has been dropped by Manchester United in recent weeks.

As England manager Southgate promised they would, his team took the knee ahead of kick-off. The now-familiar anti-discrimination stance has been taken by the team for a run of 33 games before the start of the current season.

The England side sang God Save the King, but the Iranian players did not appear to sing their national anthem.

Iran’s beach football, water polo and basketball teams have all recently shunned the anthem in solidarity with protesters in their home country.

Months of protests have rocked Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Ms Amini died while being held by so-called morality police for allegedly violating the country’s compulsory dress code for women.

Over 200 protesters, who are targeting strict morality laws and wider repression, have been killed by security forces, according to rights groups.

Hours away from the Iran-England match, Harry Kane was told not to wear an armband expressing solidarity with LGBT+ people during World Cup games.

The FA – along with the footballing associations of five other countries – requested their captains don’t wear the ‘OneLove’ armbands amid the threat of sanctions from FIFA.

An outcry has ensued, with fans groups and activists saying the last-minute decision has “shown the FIFA’s true colours”.