The English National Team, showing surprising poise and patience in their opening World Cup 2022 match against unknown minnows Iran, rode their good fortune and better execution to a 3-0 halftime lead.
The first half was unfortunately marred by a horrific collision between talismanic Iranian keeper Alireza Beiranvand (the keeper that saved a penalty off of Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2018 Russia World Cup) and Majid Hosseini one of his own central defenders, in the 10th minute of play. Again, unfortunately, the FIFA concussion protocols seemed to fail the occasion as Beiranvand was allowed to stay, despite a nearly quarter-hour break for treatment, when it was obvious to all (Fox Sports commentator Landon Donovan saying “I hate to speculate, but he doesn’t look right to me. It should not be up to the player to decide if he stays, someone with a medical background needs to make the decision.”) that he should not remain on the pitch. Nine minutes later the keeper was stretchered off the pitch, unable to make it to the sidelines on his own.
The keeper was substituted, but the prolonged break and the loss of one of their key defensive players clearly unnerved the Iranians who came into the game with enough personal baggage from their home country’s situation not to need another emotional burden. FIFA’s concussion ruling allows for an additional substitution when such a head injury requires a player to be removed and the replacement does not count toward the five subs otherwise allowed. Iran took advantage of that rule.
The first goal came at the 35th (20th of actual playing time), when Jude Bellingham got on a pretty Luke Shaw left-footed cross and headed across goal and well beyond the Iranian’s substitute keeper, Hossein Hosseini, for the opening score.
The second goal, at the 43rd minute (28th of actual playing time), was a Bukayo Saka shot off a clearance that caught the keeper out of position and the third was a pretty Harry Kane cross which Raheem Sterling got to at the 45+1 minute (31st minute of actual playing time) and redirected with the outside of his right foot. The rest of the half plus 14-minute stoppage time saw the English unsure of what to do as the Iranians were so shell-shocked, they were sleepwalking around the pitch.
The strategic surprises that saw both teams use more aggressively offensive lineups seemed to recede into the background as the match progressed and the emotional toll of the keeper accident seemed the last straw the Iranians needed or could handle. One would want to give Southgate credit for his trust in his youngsters and his willingness to risk a more offensive starting eleven, but then again the “risk” was taken against Iran and no one could have foreseen such an unlucky start for the Iranians or such good fortune for the English.
The second half saw Iran substitute three players right off the start but in the 61st minute, four Iranian defenders seemed to wonder without interfering why Saka, in the box and with the ball on his right, did not take a shot. They kept watching without interfering as he worked the ball continually left and finally as he took a left-footed shot from close in for the fourth goal! Southgate, feeling the four-goal cushion meant he could substitute four players when Iranian key striker Mehdi Taremi latched onto the only Iranian offensive play of the game and scored a beauty off the inside of the crossbar—England 4-1 Iran at the 65th minute.
Harry Maguire, who had his own collision prior to Taremi’s goal seemed groggy and thankfully was taken off without hesitation and then in came Eric Dier to replace Maguire, followed by Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford, and Phil Foden. Upon entering, Rashford scored (71st) off a Kane assist to make it England 5—1 Iran, and thus change the entire mathematics of Group B. Iran now seem hard-put to come back into the progression picture, while England have the largest cushion of points and goals they could possibly had dreamt of getting, and Wales and USA know their opening match, later today, is do-or-die for them both.
Grealish scored in the 89th to seemingly seal the outcome at the 90+10 of stoppage. But at the 100th minute, a VAR review gave the Iranians a penalty for a shirt pull in the box and Taremi scored for the final tally: 6-2.
Note: Papa predicted the Ecuador opener win correctly but missed his prediction on this one badly, albeit not having factored in a concussion, or two. Prediction quotient: 50%.
Photo: Mehdi Taremi, Shuttertstock ID 2161444053, by Alizada Studios