Sport

FIFA WORLD CUP 2022

Teenager Bellingham ignites England with dynamic display to rout Iran

Teenager Bellingham ignites England with dynamic display to rout Iran
Jude Bellingham (second left) of England and teammates celebrate a goal in the Fifa World Cup 2022 group B match at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 21 November 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ronald Wittek)

England underlined their credentials as World Cup contenders with a resounding 6-2 win over Iran, with 19-year-old Jude Bellingham producing a stunning performance.

Teenager Jude Bellingham has become one of the most sought-after signatures in football, and a display oozing class in England’s 6-2 rout of Iran in their World Cup opener may have considerably upped Borussia Dortmund’s asking price.

The 19-year-old central midfielder made his World Cup finals bow look like a walk in the park inside the Khalifa International Stadium, serving up a thoroughbred performance that set the tone for England’s dominant Group B victory.

bellingham world cup

Ahmad Noorollahi (left) of Iran in action against Jude Bellingham (right) of England in the Fifa World Cup 2022 group B match at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 21 November 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Neil Hall)

England manager Gareth Southgate had come under fire during a six-game winless run in the Nations League ahead of the World Cup — his sides lacking fluidity and forward thrust.

But a few shuffles to his formation on Monday, notably a four-man defence with Declan Rice in front as a holding midfielder, and advanced full backs, provided the stage for Bellingham to run amok through Iranian ranks.

Covering the lush turf between the penalty areas like a high-powered sports car, Bellingham provided both a link out from defence and a late-arriving threat at the other end.

He was at the heart of a first half of total England domination and it was fitting that he opened the scoring in the 35th minute with his first international goal on his 18th appearance — a textbook header from Luke Shaw’s cross after ghosting into space inside the area.

It made Bellingham the youngest England scorer at a World Cup since Michael Owen in 1998, and the first player born in 2000 or later to ever score in the finals.

Telling statistic

Perhaps the most telling statistic, however, was that the former Birmingham City player completed 40 out of 40 passes in the opening half, 10 of them in the final third of the pitch as he connected the lines of Southgate’s formation.

Bellingham, on who Liverpool are reportedly willing to spend £100-million to bring to the Premier League, served up a display that was at times like watching former England midfield dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard rolled into one.

“When you are watching him, it is really easy to forget just how young he is,” BBC analyst Danny Murphy said.

england fans world cup

Fans celebrate at the 4TheFans fan park in Manchester, England as England beat Iran 6-2 in the Fifa World Cup Qatar Group B match. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Adam Vaughan)

Another former England midfielder, Jermaine Jenas, added: “Bellingham has been outrageous today… 19-years-old! Honestly, it’s scary. He is a throwback. England’s best quality today was their counter press and he was at the forefront of that.”

Bellingham was certainly far too good for Iran, but he was not the only one of Southgate’s youngsters to shine in a start that will have the hopes of England fans soaring again.

Mason Mount was an ideal foil alongside him in the centre, while 21-year-old Bukayo Saka scored two well-taken goals and marauded down the right wing as England ran riot.

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Perhaps the most satisfying thing of all for Southgate was that England’s goal-scoring department has burst back to life, even without talisman Harry Kane adding to his 51 goals.

The talk beforehand was of Kane matching the national record 53 goals of Wayne Rooney, possibly even against Iran.

Instead, by releasing the handbrake on a side packed with attacking potential, the goals were shared around with Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish all on target.

england iran world cup

Bukayo Saka of England celebrates after scoring England’s fourth goal in the Fifa World Cup 2022 group B match against Iran at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 21 November 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Neil Hall)

But if England are to go deep in Qatar, Bellingham could be the spark that ignites Southgate’s team.

“Wins take the pressure off… when you win games, you’re at ease for a little bit longer,” Bellingham said.

“But we’ve got to get ready for the next game and realise that a new challenge is incoming.”

Fast start

England, semifinalists in 2018, came into the tournament without a win in six games, but a dynamic opening 45 minutes — in which Bellingham scored his first England goal, Saka doubled the lead and Raheem Sterling grabbed a third — set up a second-half stroll.

Saka’s second goal allowed England to take their foot off the gas and opened the door for Iran to grab one back through Mehdi Taremi, before substitutes Rashford and Grealish rounded off England’s scoring.

Although Iran’s Taremi grabbed another from the penalty spot in the 13th minute of stoppage time, bringing the total to an astonishing 26 minutes in both halves, England’s work was done.

“We haven’t played the best coming into the tournament. There was a lot of talk and speculation about our form, but we showed everyone how much quality we have and what we can do,” said Saka, whose last major tournament ended with him missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final shootout.

Yet England manager Gareth Southgate was not getting carried away.

“I’m a miserable so-and-so… I should be more excited, but I’ve got to keep the team on the right track and we will have to be better,” he said, grumbling about the two goals conceded.

Off-pitch issues

At a World Cup dominated by politics, despite Fifa’s determination that the football should be left to do the talking, the build-up to the game was overshadowed by issues off the pitch.

England’s captain Harry Kane abandoned plans to wear a “OneLove” armband when Fifa made it clear that those who bore the multi-coloured symbol of diversity and inclusion could be booked, with the striker instead opting for a Fifa-approved “No Discrimination” version.

There was also swirling speculation that Iran’s players would use the platform to show solidarity with anti-government protests at home, and as the Iranian national anthem blared out, the players stood stony-faced and silent.

The game eventually took centre stage and it wasn’t long before England were in top gear.

Their cause was helped when Iran’s influential goalkeeper, Alireza Beiranvand, was forced off the pitch after 20 minutes following a sickening clash of heads with a teammate. Southgate’s side took full advantage. Reuters/DM

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