DOHA: They used mist machines to cope with the midday sun in the lead-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, but it was England who brought the heat and kept their cool on Monday (Nov 21) as they hammered Iran 6-2.
In front of a crowd of about 45,000 at the Khalifa International stadium, a Bukayo Saka double and goals from Jude Bellingham, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish sealed an emphatic victory for Gareth Southgate’s men in their Group B opener.
There were extraordinary scenes before the opening whistle as Iranian players stayed silent throughout the course of their national anthem with their raucous supporters drowning out the music with loud boos and jeers.
A popular revolt sparked by the death of young woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for flouting Iran's strict Islamic dress code has gripped the country for over two months. Since then, dozens of Iranian public figures, athletes and artists have displayed solidarity with the protesters.
England immediately took the game to their opponents and Harry Maguire looked to have been bundled over in the box by Rouzbeh Cheshmi, but no penalty was given.
A quickly-taken free kick minutes later saw Harry Kane curl a dangerous cross into the box. Iranian goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand managed to get a touch on the ball and an onrushing Maguire could only direct his shot wide.
However, Beiranvand clashed heads with a teammate in the process and had to be substituted after a substantial delay.
Maguire would come even closer in the 32nd minute as he shrugged off his marker and rose to meet Kieran Trippier's corner. But the centre-back could only look on as his header thudded off the post.
It was youngster Jude Bellingham, making his World Cup debut, who put England ahead. The 19-year-old’s header from a Luke Shaw cross caught substitute goalkeeper Hossein Hosseini flat-footed and nestled in the back of the net.
England doubled their lead in first half added time as Arsenal midfielder Bukayo Saka rifled a swerving volley into the back of the net after another well-won header by Maguire.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh had Iran’s best chance of the first half, but he blazed over despite having time to take an extra touch.
After the break, England threatened to extend their lead as Kane and Sterling combined cleverly. But Chelsea winger Sterling was charged down by an Iranian defender and the chance was lost.
Saka would get his second in the 62nd minute as he tucked home after great work from Sterling to find him.
Iran refused to throw in the towel and would get a brilliant consolation soon after as Mehdi Taremi ghosted in behind Maguire and hammered home in off the crossbar.
Any hopes of a comeback was put to rest in the 71st minute as substitute Rashford kept his cool to step inside and finish calmly.
And substitute Callum Wilson looked to have put the gloss on the victory as he unselfishly squared to Grealish to tap home in the 90th minute.
Yet Iran pushed. They were inches away from their second late into stoppage time as Sadar Azmoun's shot was helped onto the crossbar by England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
And there was still time for an Iranian goal, as they were awarded a penalty after shirt-tugging in the penalty box. Taremi stepped up to send Pickford the wrong way to the delight of the swathes of Iranian support.
England will next face the United States on Friday, while Iran will go up against Wales.
Watch all 64 matches of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ LIVE on meWATCH. Visit mewatch.sg/fifaworldcup for details.