Is the Cup coming home? After the 50 and 20-over cricket World Cups? Early days of course, but it was a performance befitting of the dark horses for sure. Iran is not exactly a powerhouse at the world stage and yet, to hand them this kind of a thrashing was extremely commendable to say the least. Khalifa International Stadium on Monday evening witnessed a show that firmly established England as a team which will be worthy contenders for the World Cup.
How often do you see a team deny the opponents a share of the ball during the course of 90 minutes plus 24 added-on minutes? England did that against Iran. Statistically speaking, Gareth Southgate’s team commanded 79% of possession. Effectively, it was much more telling. England hardly ever allowed Iran to touch the ball. It was a performance worth remembering because Iran are no pushovers. They have produced some fine talents over the years. To beat them so comprehensively in a 6-2 verdict was a testament of England’s talent and intention.
Southgate was a defender in his playing days, known in this part of the world also for missing his attempt in the Euro 1996 semifinal penalty shootout against Germany. England coach for the last six years, he had developed a reputation for being ultra defensive in formulating strategy. Not hesitant to line up five in the backline, he did rather well, guiding the team to the semifinals of the previous World Cup and last year’s European Championship final. On show on Monday, was a different team.
England attacked from the word go and kept the ball in possession for an amount of time that would be alarming for every other side. They were relentless and what would be most satisfying for them is the fact that almost everybody made a significant contribution. Youngsters like Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka getting among the score sheet, Raheem Sterling netting an absolute stunner and Marcus Rashford hitting the net within minutes after coming in as a substitute, there were many positives for England. Possibly, the biggest would be the performance of Harry Kane, who did not score but set up a few. To have your most prolific striker not scoring and still smashing six goals in a World Cup fixture is something that not many teams would be boasting of.
Coached by the experienced Carlos Queiroz, Iran were expected to put up a fight. In 2014, under the same manager, they had kept Argentina waiting until the dying moments of the match before Lionel Messi hit a blinder. They were surprisingly subdued on Monday. Their players did not lip with the national anthem before the start of the game. When the ball started rolling, they mostly spent their time defending and trying in vain to get possession of it. It was England all the way, in a very convincing manner. Iran never came close to even making a match of it.
This performance by England will make the other top teams sit up and take notice. They have enough resources, in the sense that players like Rashford or Phil Foden can be left out of the starting line-up. This is serious bench strength, something that not many can afford. If not anything else, the intent, purpose and intensity Southgate’s boys showed will have to be taken seriously. Too early, right, to predict. But then, the early signs are there. They are very, very promising.