England 6 – 2 Iran
(Group B, Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, 21/11/2022)
The match started amidst reports of England fans suffering long delays getting into the stadium (due to the FIFA ticketing system crashing) and after the Iranian players declined to sing their national anthem (for very good reasons) with the latter providing a further (if one was needed) example, after Infantino’s speech and the armband issue, of keeping politics out of football. Not! Apologies but couldn’t resist a dig at FIFA. The England fans were eventually admitted, albeit many missed the kick-off.
Very early on, England’s play was promising with much possession resulting from accurate passing and some good movement. Most of this was in the middle of the park though, and the overall tempo wasn’t particularly high. In the first few minutes Maguire had a very strong shout for a penalty after being hauled down in the box. Not given by the referee and nothing doing by VAR – a baffling outcome particularly given the decision made at the end of the game. As time went on, England grew in confidence, making more progress in the final third and finding some space out wide on both flanks. Sterling would have certainly been in to score from Kane’s cross had it not been for the brave intervention of Beyranvand who deflected the ball away from him. Instead, the ball landed at Maguire’s feet – his touch went tamely wide. In deflecting the ball Beyranvand collided with a defender and went down, didn’t move and looked badly hurt. His treatment resulted in a lengthy delay for which 14 minutes were later added. He should have been taken off but, still looking in a bad way, carried on for a few minutes before deciding that he couldn’t continue.
Good chances came and went. Mount found Saka in the area, he cut inside but shot weakly straight at substitute keeper Hosseini. Sterling found Saka out wide, Mount ran in front of the defenders to meet the cross only to see his first-time effort hit the side netting. A good Sterling run in the penalty area resulted in a corner which led to a Maguire header hitting the bar. At that stage the Chelsea players had been busy being equal top of the receptions chart (7 each) along with Saka.
Then came the purple patch with three goals scored within 12 minutes. First (35th minute) Sterling fed Shaw out wide on the left, his cross reached the impressive Bellingham with some room and he duly headed home. Then (43rd minute) Sterling’s chasing won a corner. That was headed down by Maguire for Saka to finish crashing it in off the underside of the bar from about 15 yards out. The third goal came in the 46th minute. Bellingham rode a couple of tackles, found Kane to the right wide of the penalty area. He ran clear, and without looking up, crossed into the danger area where Sterling leapt in front of the defenders to volley home with the outside of his right foot.
During the additional time England appeared to allow the tempo to drop allowing Jahanbakhsh a chance to score. His shot, Iran’s only attempt up to that point, was well off target. England must have been very satisfied with a 3-0 half-time score. Game over?
The second half started in much the same way as the first, although Iran showed more aggression and tried to get the ball forward more often. Just after the hour mark a short cross-field run and pass by Sterling saw Saka, with room, take the ball just outside the right-hand corner of the penalty area. He stayed composed, keeping the ball while moving to the middle of the box and slotting home into the bottom left corner of the net. Four-nil – game over surely? Three minutes later Iran scored! There didn’t seem to be too much danger with the ball out wide on the right, but as it was worked towards the middle a clever pass by Gholizadeh saw Taremi get across Maguire to lash the ball first-time into the roof of the net. A good finish if not particularly good defending. A shame about the clean sheet but Pickford couldn’t have done anything about it. Immediately after the goal Maguire signaled to the bench and went down for treatment. Foden, Grealish, Rashford and Wilson were preparing to come on. With Maguire going off, Wilson gave way to Dier when the four were eventually allowed on. Mount, Saka and Sterling were the others to go off. Wilson would later replace Kane.
Within a minute (49 seconds to be precise) of coming on Rashford scored the fifth with his third touch. Enjoying a lot of room just outside the area, a great first touch to control the pass from Kane, a chop to go inside the defender and goal! A very composed finish. The sixth goal came in the last minute of normal time. The ball was cleared to Rashford, he flicked it on to Bellingham who hit a superb early ball to Wilson in acres of space out on the right. Running diagonally into the penalty area he might well have taken a shot as the angle was not too acute. However, he too showed great composure, unselfishly cutting the ball back to Grealish who side-footed home from short range. A nice touch with his celebration.
Maguire’s injury plus all the substitutions left an additional 10 minutes to play. Deep into added time Azmoun broke clear down their left. His powerful shot was fingertipped onto the bar by Pickford. Right at the death Iran were awarded a penalty, scored by Terami, given for his shirt-being pulled by Stones. That was the last kick of the game but if that one was given the Maguire shout should have been a nailed-on penalty.
This game was potentially a tricky one. Group B is the only one where all four teams have FIFA top twenty rankings (England 5th, Iran 20th) so anything less than a win would have been a serious slip-up. All in all a fully deserved three points and a very pleasing performance. After not really looking like scoring in recent games, it was particularly encouraging that England took their chances so well. Good performances from all the players, in particular Man of the Match Bellingham and the attackers. Genius substitutions by Southgate anyone?
England will no doubt face far sterner tests from both the USA (ranked 16) and Wales (ranked 19) and their game later this evening will give some indication of how hard those games might be. Wales play Iran on Friday before England face the USA. The comparison between that result and today’s will be interesting before the final group game showdown.
Posted by the CSG’s World Cup Willie