RAMPANT England announced themselves as serious World Cup contenders – as they equalled their best ever tournament result by demolishing Iran.
Bukayo Saka netted a brilliant double after Jude Bellingham’s first international goal had powered England in front.
GettyBellingham, 19, celebrates with Mason Mount[/caption]
ReutersSaka is congratulated for his first-half strike[/caption]
Raheem Sterling volleyed home the last of a three-goal ten-minute blitz before half-time.
And sub Marcus Rashford added the fifth with his first touches for England since missing a penalty at last year’s Euros before Jack Grealish completed the rout.
It was sensational stuff from Gareth Southgate’s side, who arrived at the tournament on the back of a six-match winless run, with the manager widely criticised for being overly-cautious.
This was nothing of the sort as an Iranian team ranked as high as 20th in the world, and known for defensive meanness, were blown to smithereens.
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Captain Harry Kane provided two assists in one of his best all-round performances for England – despite failing to find the net himself.
Plenty of normally-sensible people had been tipping England to win this World Cup, which – after such a miserable Nations League relegation campaign seemed quite a leap of faith.
That was until England started surging forward, their front three outstanding, with the 19-year-old Bellingham properly announcing himself on the world stage with a performance of influence and authority.
This was not a perfect performance – there were moments of raggedness in midfield and defence which would be punished by stronger opponents – but it was mightily impressive and it felt as if Southgate had taken the handbrake off.
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England face the United States on Friday and Wales next Tuesday but they look like storming through Group B and into the knock-out phase after this rout.
Southgate’s starting line-up was an attacking one, his loyal yeoman Harry Maguire in the centre of a back four, despite his struggles at Manchester United.
The England boss showed similar loyalty to out-of-form Sterling and handed a first tournament start to Bellingham.
After the controversy over Kane’s ‘One Love’ armband – he didn’t wear it when Fifa made it apparent that he’d be booked for it – England took the knee and made a bright start, moving the ball with pace and purpose.
Maguire appeared to be wrestled over by Rouzbeh Cheshmi from a corner but Brazilian ref Raphael Claus and his VAR were having none of it.
A quick-thinking Kieran Trippier free-kick released Kane down the right but keeper Alireza Beyranvand pushed away the captain’s centre, collided with his own defender, knocking him out and leaving him with a bloodied nose.
There was an eight-minute delay while he was treated, then Beyranvand swiftly collapsed to the floor again and was eventually carried off on a stretcher – replaced by Hossein Hosseini.
PAJude Bellingham glances England in front on 35 minutes[/caption]
GettyBukayo Saka volleys England into a 2-0 lead[/caption]
After a sharp passing move, Saka’s low centre was met by Mount, who shot into the side netting at the near post.
Sterling executed a nutmeg and forced a corner, with Trippier’s centre crashed against the bar post by Maguire, who had moved well to win his header.
And on 35 minutes, England were ahead, Luke Shaw centring from the left and Bellingham rising to beat his man and arc home a header which powered into the far corner, with Hosseini rooted to the spot.
It was Bellingham’s first international goal, on his 18th England appearance, but a continuation of a fine run of goalscoring for Borussia Dortmund this season.
Within eight minutes, England doubled their lead, Shaw’s corner met with a downward header by Maguire, with Saka lashing into the roof of the net via a minor deflection.
And just two minutes later, it was 3-0 thanks to a cracking passing move.
Bellingham surged forward and fed Kane, whose perfect right-wing cross was poked home on the volley by the on-rushing Sterling.
When Iran finally got a sight on goal, during 15 minutes, Ali Jahanbakhsh volleyed over – and he was one of three players hooked by boss Carlos Queiroz at half-time.
ReutersRaheem Sterling stabs England into dreamland[/caption]
GettySterling celebrates making it 3-0 before half-time[/caption]
Early in the second half both Kane and Trippier suffered knocks but carried on regardless.
The fourth goal was a gem. Kane’s header intercepted a goal kick, Sterling pounced and fed Saka, who teased his full-back and fooled three Iranian defenders before he side-footed home with maximum cool, Hosseini motionless once more.
Iran responded, though, with a peach of their own – Ali Gholizadeh’s reverse pass was leathered home first time by Porto’s Mehdi Taremi.
Maguire appeared to suffer a head injury during the build-up and was replaced by Eric Dier, while Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford arrived in place of Sterling, Saka and Mason Mount.
And seconds later, Rashford added a fifth – Kane held it up brilliantly and fed Rashford, who kippered his full-back, cut in from the right and slotted home brilliantly.
Then Bellingham won a 50-50 tackle and made a killer pass with the same touch – and two more subs combined, Callum Wilson surging down the right and unselfishly cutting back for Grealish to net the sixth.
Jordan Pickford made an excellent save to tip a Sardar Azmoun shot onto the bar in the dying seconds.
But from the resulting corner, VAR awarded a penalty for a John Stones shirt-pull and Teremi slotted home a consolation from the spot.
AlamySaka is congratulated after making it 4-0[/caption]
GettyMehdi Taremi grabs a consolation goal[/caption]
GettyMarcus Rashford makes it 5-1 immediately after coming on[/caption]