‘s reign as manager was under scrutiny with the national team’s record coming into the World Cup – but he silenced the doubters with a near-perfect tactical performance as they won their opening game.
England won 6-2 against Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium, with a brace for and goals for Jude Bellingham, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and .
While two goals for Iran courtesy of Porto striker Mehdi Taremi took some off the gloss from England’s comprehensive victory, it was still largely a tactical success for Southgate as they opened their World Cup campaign.
Gareth Southgate applauds fans after England opened their World Cup campaign with a win
Southgate you’re the one….again
Southgate joked that he knew social media would be saying ‘we’ve got all these talented players and they’ve put this numpty in charge.’
He was booed off at Molineux and the San Siro this year, but the old Atomic Kitten song was out again last night.From ‘getting sacked in the morning,’ it’s now ‘Southgate you’re the one/you still turn me on.’
Raheem Sterling, lacking Chelsea form, looked vulnerable, but for England, he’s Southgate’s go-to man. He didn’t disappoint, with the little feints and turns he’s been missing at Chelsea coming in abundance here.As well as a sharp finish for the third goal.
Raheem Sterling continued his strong England form with a goal in the 6-2 hammering of Iran
There was more momentum behind picking Bukayo Saka and two goals on his World Cup debut make in a shoo-in for the next game.Reverting to a back four for group stages against less threatening opposition makes sense.
It doesn’t always work though. Iran were resolutely back five – and that really isn’t easy to break down. There was an early worry that they weren’t moving the ball quick enough and Iran were getting back into defensive position easily.
But, a combination of Iran not being able to find their out men – Mehdi Taremi and Ali Jahahbakhsh – meant the pressure was relentless and when England started to move the ball quickly, they couldn’t cope.
From Russia with Love
In the Euros, England set pieces were desperately disappointing.This was more like Russia 2018, where they led the way. Despite having little preparation time, they seemed on top of their routines from the third minute, when Harry Maguire was seemingly wrestled to the ground by Rouzbeh Chesmi from a Kieran Trippier corner.
Harry Maguire impressed for England from early on, as set-pieces proved key to their success
It wasn’t just corners though.Twice, Trippier almost found Harry Kane from a free kick routine with clever runs peeling away down a blind channel – though that move will now be noted by all opposition coaches.
The seventh minute clash of heads which saw Ali Beianvand depart came after Tripper found Kane in that way and crossed, with the goalkeeper’s touch denying Sterling, who would have scored.
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There was the 32nd-minute corner which Maguire headed on to the bar from Trippier and then the second goal, where Luke Shaw’s corner found Maguire (again), the United defender then setting up Bukayo Saka for his lovely volley on the bounce.
Set pieces are a key factor, not least in tight games.To see England on top of their set piece routines was hugely encouraging.
The shirt pull by Stones to concede the penalty at the end was a warning though – VAR will seek out all your sneakiest moves (even if it couldn’t spot a player wrestling Maguire to the ground).
John Stones conceded a late penalty when he was ruled to be guilty of a shirt pull in the box
Wide players rule the roost
Luke Shaw and Bukayo Saka were constant thorns in the side of Iran. Even with the extra defender, Iran were struggling to come to terms with them.
The difficulty for Iran defending Shaw was that Sterling was coming inside, vacating that space and causing them a problem with the extra player.
Shaw thrived in that space, but his crossing was also exemplary.The weight of the ball for Bellingham’s opener was superb.
He also provided the corner for the second. What was crucial though was there ability to push the ball past the wing back and get in behind Iran.
It’s not always easy to get width against a back five.But England spread the ball wide time and time again – and it meant Iran couldn’t stay compact. And because England’s crossing was so good, they couldn’t cope.
England skipper Harry Kane made two assists before being taken off early during the victory
Harry Kane: Assist king
No goals, no shots on target, subbed off.Must be crisis time for Harry Kane. But there is so much more to Kane than the goals.
The cameo of hold-up play before setting up Sterling for the third, was a delight. And it was a pure Gazball, as we’re now calling Gareth’s tactical plan: Jordan Pickford excellent delivery from the back, into Saka and Kane on to Bellingham, who released Kane.
It’s one of those moments were he shields the ball, you think nothing is on and then he simply pushes it a metre on, goes and has created the opening, this time cross for Sterling to score his first World Cup goal.
Then there was take down from the long ball on 72 minutes superbly executed before playing in Marcus Rashford for his first touch.Rashford scored with his second for 5-1. Kane was integral to this win, even if another Golden Boot seems a little way off tonight.
Mason Mount (right, celebrating with Jude Bellingham) was a natural No10 for the Three Lions
It’s like watching Brazil
Remember when England couldn’t score from open play?Naturally there will be tougher tests than this.
But the opener – which is always the toughest goal to score, when a defensive opposition are fresh, in shape and motivated at 0-0, was a classic of what Southgate would want: Harry Maguire driving the ball out from the back, into Mason Mount, who played The Journal No10 role perfectly with his little flick off to Sterling. That’s exactly why he’s there.
There was still much more to do, Sterling finding Shaw, the cross and the Bellingham header.
Yet those little moments, when you surprise the opposition and move them around, have eluded England in the Nations League and didn’t always come easily in Russia or the group stages in the Euros.Now they need it against the bigger teams.
Southgate made a number of changes in the second half, helping to boost morale in the squad
One of the hardest tasks is keeping everyone happy in tour – but with the opportunity to rotate and use 16 of his 26-man squad will have pleased Southgate, an unused sub at the 2002 World Cup.
Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford will be buzzing with World Cup goal and Callum Wilson, selflessly squaring for Grealish will feel a big part of the win.
Realistically the two keepers won’t play, so Southgate only needs to get eight more players on the pitch in the next two games to bond his side together and ensure everyone feels involved.
Jude Bellingham looked every inch the players we think he is and Saka was man of the match.A young team will feel this was the perfect opener, marred only by the two goals conceded.
Southgate, with goalscorer Jack Grealish, is now preparing for England’s match with the USA