Gareth Southgate’s England side got off to an almost perfect start to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar with a resounding 6-2 dismissal of an underequipped Iran. The underdogs would have been aware that The Three Lions presented the sternest challenge in Group B, but coach Carlos Queiroz would have hoped for a less damaging result than what he ended up witnessing on Monday.
Southgate, as is sometimes his wont against lesser opponents, opted for an attacking 4-2-3-1 lineup, rather than the usual more conservative back three. Consequently, this paid put to Conor Coady’s slim chances of featuring, even after Harry Maguire was forced off in the second period with double vision.
Team Melli also suffered an injury setback, losing starting goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand after twenty minutes, at which time the match was still level, the favourites having been successfully kept at arm’s length, with only Maguire’s off-target effort from a set-piece to deal with. Still, England had been utterly dominating possession and were encamped in the opposition half, so the pressure was mounting. From the half hour mark the Iranians started creaking and the goals followed in a rush, three big chances slotted home in an eleven minute spell.
Everton’s Jordan Pickford was largely a spectator until the 65th minute, when the beleaguered Middle Eastern side unpicked a flatfooted England defence (though Maguire can be excused of any blame, considering he’d signalled to the bench that something was not quite right with him immediately beforehand; he’d be substituted off straightaway. Dangerman Mehdi Taremi’s finish to pull one back was high, but central and beat Pickford with its power, to make it 4-1. Was a comeback on?
The Blues goalkeeper did make amends with an outstanding save in the 98th minute from substitute Sardar Azmoun: fbref.com rated the Bayer Leverkusen striker's effort at a Post-Shot Expected Goal (PSxG) of 0.75. Iran were awarded a somewhat soft penalty in the 113th (!) minute, which was slotted home coolly from the spot by Taremi to conclude the scoring.
So, the Three Lions have the expected three points in the bag and it’s the USA next up on Friday, in what promises to be a stiffer test for Southgate’s troops. Will we see a reversion to a back three, or will the manager stick to a winning formula? It is worth mentioning that despite the huge possession advantage England enjoyed (77%), they did only take 13 shots in the game, scoring with six of seven on target against a backup goalie. The USMNT are a much more capable side than Iran and we’ll learn a lot more about England’s chances in this tournament after the 90 minutes are completed.