Bukayo Saka at the double as dynamic England hits Iran for 6

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between England 6-2 Iran at Khalifa International Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar. Bukayo Saka (white shirt) scores a brace as England got their World Cup campaign off to a flying start. — NAOKI MORITA/AFLO SPORT

DOHA — England got their World Cup campaign off to a flying start as they rattled in the goals past a shell-shocked Iran and cruised to an impressive 6-2 Group B victory on Monday in a timely return to form for Gareth Southgate’s side.

England, semi-finalists in 2018, came into the tournament without a win in six games, but a dynamic opening 45 minutes in which Jude Bellingham scored his first England goal, Bukayo 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 Marcus Rashford and Jack 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 ISSUESAt a World Cup dominated by politics, despite FIFA’s determination that the football should be left to do the talking, the buildup to the game was overshadowed by issues off the pitch.

England’s captain Harry Kane had abandoned plans to wear a ‘One Love’ armband when FIFA made clear that those who bore the multi-colored symbol of diversity and inclusion could be booked, with the striker 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 center stage and it was not 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 team mate but Southgate’s side took full advantage.

ROLLS ROYCEEngland’s 19-year-old midfielder Bellingham purred like a Rolls-Royce in the engine room and his opening goal set England on their way at Khalifa International Stadium.

Timing his run perfectly, Bellingham rose to meet Luke Shaw’s cross, and directed a looping header into the top corner in the 35th minute to become the first player born in or after 2000 to score at the World Cup.

Shaw was the provider again for England’s second as his corner was headed back across the area by Harry Maguire to Saka, who volleyed home expertly.

The game was ended as a contest when Sterling added a third, finishing with the outside of his boot on the volley from Harry Kane’s cross after Bellingham was again involved in the buildup.

England were not done, however, as Saka grabbed his second in the 62nd minute.

Sterling, whose place in the side had been under scrutiny following mixed form for Chelsea, turned in midfield and fed Saka, who jinked, before dropping his shoulder and calmly placing the ball into the bottom corner.

Iran pulled one back when Taremi smashed the ball into the top corner, but Rashford came on in a raft of England changes in the 70th minute and cut inside a defender before slotting his side’s fifth moments later.

Grealish turned in England’s sixth from close range in the 90th minute after fellow substitute Callum Wilson’s run and cross from the right, before Taremi’s late spot-kick, given after a VAR review for a minor shirt pull.

“At the beginning it was clear the difference between high level competitive football… every single week and our players unfortunately they don’t have the same experience,” said Iran manager Carlos Queiroz.

His side face Wales on Friday when England take on the United States.

DUTCH GRAB 2-0 WIN OVER SENEGALCody Gakpo scored a late goal on his World Cup debut and Davy Klaassen added a second deep in stoppage time to give the Netherlands a 2-0 win over Senegal in their Group A clash at the Al Thumama Stadium on Monday.

Coach Louis Van Gaal handed goalkeeper Andries Noppert his first international cap and he had little to do as the Dutch defense stifled the African champions, though he did pull off a superb save in the 73rd minute to parry a stinging shot from Idrissa Gueye.

The Netherlands attack had been wasteful throughout until the 23-year-old Gakpo stole through the middle and beat Edouard Mendy to a cross from Frenkie de Jong to send a glancing header into the net in the 84th minute.

Substitute Klaassen reacted quickest nine minutes into stoppage time to pounce on a rebound from a Memphis Depay shot and fire home to put the Dutch top of the group alongside Ecuador, whom they meet in their next game on Friday.

LATE BALE PENALTY EARNS WALES 1-1 DRAW WITH USA late penalty by veteran striker Gareth Bale earned Wales a 1-1 draw with the United States on Monday to avoid a losing return to the World Cup after 64 years in a fascinating Group B encounter at a raucous Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

Dragged down by US defender Tim Ream in the box, Wales’ all-time top scorer stepped up to the penalty spot in the 82nd minute and made no mistake by hammering the ball into the top corner in front of the “Red Wall” of fans.

With one of the youngest teams at the tournament and themselves returning after eight years, the United States started energetically and took a well-deserved 1-0 lead with a 36th minute goal from Timothy Weah. They were unlucky not to go into the break with a bigger advantage against the flat Welsh.

Weah, the son of Liberian president and former World Player of the Year George Weah, timed his run to perfection after a beautifully-weighted pass from Christian Pulisic and slipped the ball past Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey. — Reuters