England’s young lions tear Iran apart as protests and politics threaten to overshadow football in Qatar

Home Sports England’s young lions tear Iran apart as protests and politics threaten to overshadow football in Qatar
England’s young lions tear Iran apart as protests and politics threaten to overshadow football in Qatar

England have routed Iran 6-2 to get their World Cup campaign off to a flying start as the Middle Eastern side played the match against a backdrop of tensions at home.

Before a ball was even kicked, the match, the second of the World Cup in Qatar, was mired in controversy.

England, along with six other European teams, backed down on their promise to wear “one love” armbands to highlight the host country’s record on human rights after FIFA said the captains of those teams involved in the move would receive yellow cards.

The threat of star players being one step closer to suspension (two yellows mean a one-match ban) was enough to stop the campaign in its tracks.

England players instead took a knee pre-match, while Iran’s XI staged their own protest on an entirely separate issue.

Protests have been taking place across Iran over the past two months following the death of young woman Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the morality police.

When the Iranian anthem played inside Qatar’s Khalifa International Stadium, the starting XI refused to sing it, in what Reuters reported was thought to be a show of support for protesters in Iran.

Footballs players are dressed in red standing in a line with their arms around each other's shoulders.
Iran players line up during the national anthems before the match against England.(Reuters: Marko Djurica)

Iranian state television, during its live broadcast, censored the footage of the players lining up before the match as the anthem was played.

Iranian fans gathered in the stands shouted as the music was played and some were seen making thumbs-down gestures.

England smother Iran

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Qatar 2022: Controversy, Corruption and the Cup

As the game got underway, Iran proved hopelessly out of depth against 2018 semifinalists England.

And despite the England side containing a number of more experienced stars, including skipper Harry Kane and midfielder Mason Mount, it was its youngest stars who came to the fore.

After a 12-minute delay following a collision between Iranian goalkeeper Ali Beiranvand and teammate Majid Hosseini, the keeper was subbed off and England, who had looked good, had to again find rhythm.

Two football players clashes.
Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand (left) couldn’t continue after this clash with teammate Majid Hosseini.(Reuters: Paul Childs)

That did not take long, and it looked as if Harry Maguire would score the team’s tournament opener but his header came back off the crossbar on 31 minutes.

It mattered not.

Five minutes later, teenage star Jude Bellingham used his head to exquisitely flick one past substitute keeper Hossein Hosseini and begin what would be a deluge of goals.

Two football players standing next to each other and signing in celebration after score.
Jude Bellingham became the first England teenager since Michael Owen to score at a World Cup.(Reuters: Paul Childs)

His was followed seven minutes later by 21-year-old Bukayo Saka’s first as he latched onto a Maguire header to smash the ball into the roof of the net, before Raheem Sterling volleyed home England’s third to have them up 3-0 at half-time.

If Iran thought the break would bring any respite, they were wrong.

Saka completed his brace in the 62nd minute with some individual brilliance to make it 4-0 as he beat several defenders and side-footed one home.

Iran would get the first of their two goals from Mehdi Taremi as he thrashed one past Jordan Pickford in the England goal to make it 4-1 and he would later convert a penalty with the last kick of the game.

But before that, England scored two more as Marcus Rashford showed his class to get his tournament off to a good start and Jack Grealish got England’s sixth as he hammered home a cutback from Callum Wilson.

For England, the result provided relief. It put them in a solid position in their group, and Saka said the performance was a sign of what they could do.

“We haven’t played the best coming into the tournament,” Saka said.

“There was a lot of talk and speculation about our form but we showed everyone how much quality we have and what we can do.” 

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