Raheem Sterling scored his first World Cup goal as England got their tournament up and running in style, thumping Iran 6-2.
Sterling’s acrobatic volley put the Three Lions 3-0 up at the beginning of 14 minutes of first-half stoppage time, signalled after an injury to the Iranian keeper. He and Mason Mount played 70 minutes with Conor Gallagher an unused sub at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
By that point England had overwhelmed Iran with a dominant first-half performance full of poise and purpose. Deploying a 4-2-3-1 formation, Gareth Southgate’s side started on the front foot and never let up, despite a lengthy delay after a collision between Iran’s keeper and centre-back.
It was Mount who had England’s first big chance on the half-hour, thumping a shot into the side-netting from Bukayo Saka’s low centre. Harry Maguire headed against the crossbar a couple of minutes later as England cranked up the pressure.
Mount, positioned behind Harry Kane and with Sterling to his left, was a typically busy presence between the lines, while Sterling was free to drift as he pleased, overloading the flanks or dropping deeper to create.
The Chelsea pair combined in the build-up to England’s first on 35 minutes. Mount received a pass on the edge of the Iran box and cushioned a pass to Sterling, who moved it wide left to Luke Shaw. His cross was neatly headed into the corner by Jude Bellingham.
It was 2-0 on 43 minutes, Saka volleying in from Maguire’s knockdown, before Sterling crowned a brilliant half of football with a brilliant third goal. Bellingham did well initially in the middle of the park, finding Kane down the right flank. The captain’s cross was perfect for Sterling, whose movement was sharp and his finish, mid-air with the outside-of-the-boot, even better.
Iran had to show more attacking intent after the break and that made for an open second period. Sterling and Kane exchanged passes to create an opening for our attacker, blocked behind. Just after the hour Sterling controlled a high ball, navigated a couple of Iran challenges before finding Saka, who cut inside a couple of defenders before slotting in his second of the game.
Iran got one back through Mehdi Taremi, scorer of a stunning goal for Porto against Chelsea in April 2021, but England soon re-established their four-goal lead. Just 49 seconds after Sterling and Mount had been replaced as part of a quadruple substitution with 20 minutes left, Marcus Rashford finished confidently with his first touches of a ball since his last England appearance in the Euros final.
Another sub, Jack Grealish, added a sixth from Callum Wilson's pass as England continued to enjoy themselves after a year in which they hadn't won a competitive game. A controversial VAR-recommended penalty converted with the last kick couldn't put a dampener on things, and on this form, Southgate and his side will approach the rest of the World Cup with great confidence after their biggest win in the opening game of a major tournament.