DOHA, Qatar -- England kicked off their 2022 World Cup campaign in style as they beat Iran in a 6-2 thrashing thanks to a brace from Bukayo Saka and efforts from Jude Bellingham, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish.
Bellingham opened the scoring with his first England goal in the 35th minute while Sterling and Saka helped Gareth Southgate's side establish a comfortable 3-0 lead before half-time.
Saka produced a brilliant individual effort to take England further out of sight just past the hour mark before Mehdi Taremi netted a consolation for Iran, but substitutes Rashford and Grealish put the gloss on the Three Lions' Group B opener despite a stoppage-time penalty from Taremi.
1. England make a football statement, Iran make a political one
A day which began with a row about anti-discrimination One Love armbands as England sought to make a political statement ended with Gareth Southgate's side making a footballing one as they swept to a superb victory. Amid the threat of a yellow card for captain Harry Kane due to FIFA refusing to grant special dispensation to the seven nations planning to wear the armband, England dropped the gesture just three hours before kickoff.
The row did little to affect England's performance, however, nor did a 10-minute delay as Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand suffered concussion only to try to carry on before initiating his own substitution in a bizarre and confused demonstration of the supposed protocols. Three goals in an 11-minute blitz made what looked an awkward-looking fixture on paper a relative stroll here at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Although England took a knee before kickoff in a continuation of the anti-racism message they sent at last summer's delayed European Championship. The Iran players, meanwhile, did not sing along to their national anthem before the match. While no one from their camp has confirmed the reason, it comes amid more than two months of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman while in custody of the country's morality police, which has created one of the boldest challenges to the nation's clerical leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
2. Bellingham justifies the hype to give England hope
The biggest development in his England team since last year's run to the Euro 2020 final is the emergence of Jude Bellingham, a central midfielder able to add dynamism and ingenuity in an area of the pitch England have lacked for years. There was, consequently, a lot of expectation on the 19-year-old, making only his ninth international start and on Monday becoming the third-youngest man to start a World Cup match for England.
It could hardly have gone better. Bellingham rose expertly to steer a superb header past Luke Shaw for the opening goal after 35 minutes, the apotheosis of a first half in which he completed all 40 of his attempted passes, 10 of which came in the final third. That goal meant he became the first player born in this century to score at World Cup. Bellingham was at the heart of England's third goal, driving forward and finding Kane, who in turn set up Raheem Sterling to finish first-time at the near post.
Bellingham's intelligent use of the ball already looks integral to giving England's attacking players the sort of service they can thrive from. There is a long way to go but this was a hugely promising start -- and no doubt caught the eye of the top clubs eyeing up a move for the Borussia Dortmund star, including Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid.
3. Change of system sees England put best foot forward
The debate over England manager Gareth Southgate is this: when he plays a back three, England are too cautious, but when they play with a back four England are generally more attacking. Southgate's view is informed by England's habitual tournament failures prior to his appointment in 2016 -- losing the ball in midfield, being too predictable in open play to name but two -- and he often prefers the safety of an extra central defender to help offset these limitations.
But the growing argument is that this group of players is talented enough to be trusted to play a more expansive style without the inherent caution, and the deployment of England in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 shape here rather than the 3-4-3 used in previous games was the right call as Southgate's side brimmed with flair and invention. A compact and well-drilled Iranian side, albeit one overtly focused on defending until the game was lost, simply could not cope and the depth of attacking talent Southgate has at his disposal was exemplified by substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish both finding the net.
There were still a few defensive issues -- Mehdi Taremi scored a fine consolation goal on 65 minutes before adding a second deep in stoppage time for a penalty awarded on VAR review -- but the clamour for Southgate to take the handbrake off will only grow after this.
Player ratings (1 = worst, 10 = best)
England: Pickford 7, Trippier 7, Stones 7, Maguire 7, Shaw 7, Bellingham 9, Rice 7, Mount 8, Saka 9, Kane 8, Sterling 8.
Subs: Dier 7, Rashford 7, Grealish 7, Foden 7, Wilson 7.
Iran: Beiranvand 5, Moharrami 4, Pouraliganji 4, Cheshmi 4, Hosseini 4, Mohammadi 4, Jahanbakhsh 5, Nourollahi 5, Karimi 5, Hajsafi 5, Taremi 6.
Subs: Hosseini 4, Ezatolahi 5, Gholizadeh 5, Toradi 5, Azmoun 5.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Jude Bellingham
Set the tone for a commanding display with the opening goal and was at the heart of much of England's best play.
WORST: Hossein Hosseini
Difficult to come in after Beiranvand suffered a concussion, but he was beaten far too easily on more than one occasion.
Highlights and notable moments
When England score goals at a World Cup, there is only one place to go to for the wildest fan reaction: BOXPARK Croydon. This is how the supporters there celebrated Jude Bellingham's 35th-minute opener.
And the revellers barely had time to get fresh pints poured before England scored two more goals to go in 3-0 at half-time.
After the match: What the players and managers said
England manager Gareth Southgate: "Look, we are really pleased to start the tournament in this way, really pleased with our attacking play We know that Iran usually are very difficult to score goals against so it is a credit to our players, their movement, the quality of our passing, the quality of our finishing.
"I didn't like the end of the game. To concede two goals the way we did isn't the level we need. We are going to have to be better than we were today in certain aspects of our game against the USA because they are going to be coming for us full-throttle and we are going to have to reset.
"I don't like games that drift as this one did and it was difficult because there was so much added time in both halves. I understand the focus drifting a little but that won't be enough for us to progress in the tournament. So, we've still got a lot to do to qualify but of course this is a really good start for us."
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz: "In 2014, 2018, we had full support from the fans. And now you saw what happened today.
"That's why my duty, it is probably to invite the fans who are here already to support the team or they should stay home. Why did they come here to be against the team. We don't need them.
"It's much better they stay home. To have fans who only support the team when we are winning, we don't need them. It's something that the players can feel when they are playing."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Jude Bellingham became the first player born in this century to score at a World Cup.
At 19 years and 145 days of age, Bellingham is the third-youngest scorer for England at a World Cup. Michael Owen scored two goals at the 1998 World Cup aged 18 years, 191 days, and 18 years, 198 days.
At 21 years and 77 days old, Bukayo Saka became the youngest England player with a multi-goal game at a World Cup.
This was the first time that England had scored three goals in a FIFA World Cup opener since 1982, and the first time they scored three goals in the first half of an opener.
Marcus Rashford became only the fourth substitute to score for England at a World Cup and the first since Steven Gerrard vs. Sweden in 2006.
Harry Kane became the first English player to record two assists in a World Cup match since David Beckham vs. Trinidad & Tobago in 2006.
England's six goals scored vs. Iran were the joint-most they have ever scored in a FIFA World Cup match, along with the six they netted in the 6-1 win over Panama in 2018.
England join Germany as the only teams in the past 30 years of the World Cup to score six or more goals in their opening match. Germany in 2002 defeated Saudi Arabia 8-0 in match No. 1 en route to finishing as losing finalists.
England: After their stunning display against Iran, England may feel as though Friday's Group B clash against the United States (kickoff at 2 p.m. ET) can't come soon enough. The Americans, however, have a superior record over the Three Lions, having shocked them with a 1-0 win at the 1950 World Cup and then drawn 1-1 at the 2010 tournament. They then round off the group stage against neighbours Wales, whom they beat 2-1 the last time they met at a tournament at Euro 2016, on Nov. 29 at 2 p.m. ET.
Iran: Fresh off the back of this humbling, Iran will face Gareth Bale & Co. on Friday at 5 a.m. ET, before the taking on the US in a rematch of their memorable 1998 World Cup meeting at 2 p.m. ET on Nov. 29.