England cruised to a 6-2 victory over Iran in the opening game of Group B as young stars Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka scored the Three Lions’ first two goals.
Bellingham, 19, became the youngest England player to score a goal in the World Cup since Michael Owen found the back of the net as an 18-year-old in 1998 and the six goals scored tied a national team record set against Panama in 2018 for the most goals scored in a World Cup game.
Saka, 21, then made it 2-0 for his first of two goals.
Raheem Sterling put the game out of reach three minutes after Saka’s goal. You’ll notice the England barrage came without any goals from Harry Kane, the player most vital to England’s hopes of winning the World Cup for the first time since 1966. Goals from players other than Kane are what can make this England side so dangerous.
England coach Gareth Southgate eschewed three center backs and two wing backs in favor of four at the back and three midfielders against an Iran team that was overmatched and unable to hold onto the ball. England played with five at the back throughout most of its run to the Euro 2020 final a year ago and the preferred formation could be back against the United States on Friday.
The addition of an extra midfielder meant Mason Mount played at the top of a midfield three with Bellingham and Declan Rice. The latter stayed at the base of the midfield while Bellingham was able to do what he does best and get up the field when necessary. The Borussia Dortmund player is coveted by the top squads in the English Premier League and an excellent performance in Qatar will only make his transfer fee even larger.
Saka played out wide after becoming a first-choice player at the Euros. He showed no lack of confidence from missing the deciding penalty in the Euro final against Italy. Just look at his willingness to find space in the box for England’s fourth goal of the game.
Saka’s second goal also allowed Southgate to make a wave of substitutions in the second half. He was able to take off Kane, Sterling, Saka and Mount up front and give them a break during the second half, though defender Harry Maguire was taken off because of an apparent head injury in the moments after Iran got its goal.
The blowout win means England only solidified their status as favorites to win Group B. The four goal margin is huge for the team’s goal differential and England can now likely weather a surprise loss to either the USMNT or Wales and still get through to the knockout stage.
Iran, meanwhile, likely needs wins against both the U.S. and Wales to have a shot to advance and may need to play the rest of the tournament without starting goaling Alireza Beiranvand. He was taken off in the 19th minute after suffering a head injury and bloody nose in a collision. Beiranvand tried to stay in the game after receiving treatment for nearly 10 minutes but quickly fell back down to the turf and had to be subbed off for Hossein Kanani.