England vs Iran: Six things we learned amid concussion sub issues as Three Lions run riot

England started their World Cup 2022 adventure with a convincing, although incident-filled, 6-2 win over Iran in Group B on Monday afternoon.

Gareth Southgate’s side blitzed their opponents in the first half as Jude Bellingham nodded in the opener, Bukayo Saka hammered in a second after a corner and Raheem Sterling steered in a third, at the very beginnning of 14 minutes of stoppage time.

Saka’s solo goal made it four before Mehdi Taremi smashed in a consolation for Iran, only for Marcus Rashford to immediately net off the bench. Jack Grealish also scored, with Taremi netting a penalty after more than another 10 minutes of second-half injury time.

But there were also plenty of off-pitch talking points too, even before kick-off, as the finals in Qatar continue to throw up controversial decision-making by the authorities.

Here are six things we learned after the big opening match win for England.

Armband furore

For two days ahead of England’s opener, one talking point had led all discussions and press conferences: the One Love armband worn by Harry Kane, as well as other captains of several European national teams.

In a show of support to the LGBTQ+ community, the rainbow armband was to be worn to show acceptance and backing to same-sex relationships in a country where such is criminalised.

That was the theory, anyway.

Fifa opted to instead back Qatar and threaten sporting sanctions - bookings for players, in other words - if the captains did so, meaning England stepped down and wore the standard armband instead.

Criticism came from plenty of quarters as the “support” was rendered meaningless in the eyes of some, though on the sidelines of the pitch Alex Scott at least kept it in place.

Another dismal situation where the original message has at least been lessened, if not lost, by the ensuing argument over whether inclusivity is even allowed.

Concussion farce

We were barely underway in the game when the next issue arose and again, decision-making was found wanting as a head injury took centre stage.

Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand was involved in a collision with a teammate and despite clearly having suffered a heavy facial injury, was allowed to play on after lengthy treatment from the physios.

The stopper looked way short of full balance and confidence as he tried to play on - lasting all of about two minutes before going to ground once more and requesting to be subbed.

There should, by now, be a much clearer directive from Fifa at not allowing those to continue who have suffered head injuries. There should, by now, be an obvious way to take this kind of decision away from those who have vested interests in the team’s fortunes, including the player himself.

In the second half, a much shorter stoppage and quicker decision saw Harry Maguire also go off after a head injury.

VAR inconsistency

Shall we have one more non-footballing talking point? There was time after all, following 116 minutes of action overall.

We almost got all the way through the game without VAR having to really intervene, but a very late penalty for Iran was given after a pitchside review for a marginal shirt grab.

While that in itself was not overly controversial, the fact it was given after Harry Maguire was denied a penalty for a much clearer, far more aggressive bear-hug dragging him to ground in the first half was somewhat strange.

Saka shines after the one big call

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Much of the line-up was as expected from England, with perhaps only a few split over whether the Three Lions would play 3-4-3 or 4-3-3.

But once the system became apparent, the one call from Gareth Southgate was always going to come on the right flank: Phil Foden in a great moment for Man City, Bukayo Saka in similarly resurgent form with Arsenal or an extra striker played wide to support Harry Kane.

The manager opted for Saka and was rewarded with an electric showing, with the left-footed attacker the team’s best outlet from early on and clinical in the final third.

His first was a great finish, a half-volley controlled into the top corner, while his second was all about his individual balance, skill and composure to beat his man and finish.

Plenty impressed on the opening day, but Saka has surely nailed down his own starting role for the groups.

Iran aggression

Heavy-handed and slightly overzealous might be words which can be applied to the Asian nation’s approach, particularly after the first couple of goals went in.

Between the opening goal and probably Rashford’s for 5-1, there were at least four tackles which were frustrated, late and completely pointless other than to foul in fairly unnecessary fashion England’s players in possession.

Harry Kane was among those to feel the pain, though nobody seemed seriously injured - which didn’t stop players and manager alike from remonstrating with the referee, who only deemed fit to dish out two yellow cards.

Outside of their aggression, Iran disappointed.

This is a side which has been build on organisation, fast transitions down the flanks and an ability to make teams struggle to find space behind them, all of which England managed to undo with ease on multiple occasions.

Southgate’s spectacular subs

The first-half substitution for Iran’s goalkeeper meant six subs available, though Southgate only made five in the end.

Given 14 minutes stoppage in the first half and another 10 in the second, perhaps that’s a surprise just to get players involved and with minutes, but otherwise the big scoreline allowed the boss to make plenty of alterations in attack particularly.

The biggest positive for the manager would have been the quick impact from those off the bench: Rashford showed brilliant composure within seconds to roll his man and find the bottom corner, while Callum Wilson then streaked away down the channel and cut back for Jack Grealish to have an easy finish.

A fine start for England, with rest for key starters, too.