England got their FIFA World Cup campaign under way with a commanding 6-2 win over Iran in the first match in Group B.
Many had been expecting a game of attrition, with England struggling to break down a packed Iran defense, but that proved to be far from the case.
The Iranians suffered the early loss of goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand, who collided badly with defender Majid Hosseini and had to be replaced by Hossein Hosseini.
England took the lead in the 34th minute when Jude Bellingham headed home Luke Shaw’s cross from the left.
Bukayo Saka scored the first of his two goals with a left-foot volley in the 43rd minute after Harry Maguire’s knockdown and Raheem Sterling’s quick feet saw him finish off Harry Kane’s cross from the right in the first of the 14-minute first-half injury time.
The action continued after the break as Saka netted his second with a left-foot finish that took a deflection. Although Mehdi Taremi pulled a goal back for Iran, substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish both scored to make it 6-1, before Taremi scored a penalty with the last kick of the game.
England coach Gareth Southgate said he was “very happy” with his side after the game, but added they would have to improve their concentration in defense.
The second match in Group B was a thriller between the United States and Wales with Gareth Bale’s 82nd-minute penalty saving a point for his side on their return to the competition after a 64-year hiatus.
The Americans were on top for all of the first half, pinning the Welsh back with their pace and aggression, but they failed to turn that dominance into chances until Timothy Weah’s 36th-minute goal from a Christian Pulisic pass.
Wales coach Rob Page brought on tall striker Kieffer Moore for the second time and the Welsh improved considerably, with American keeper Matt Turner forced into a great save to deny Ben Davies, before Moore headed over.
Bale then kept his calm to smash his penalty into the corner of the net after Walter Zimmerman went through him from behind to make it a happy return for Wales, while the U.S. will rue their inability to kill them off before the break.
Senegal keeper Edouard Mendy had a night to forget as Senegal slipped to a 2-0 defeat to the Netherlands. It was a very tight game until the keeper was slightly late off his line to try and punch clear Frenkie de Jong’s cross from the left, allowing Cody Gakpo to head into an empty net.
The Chelsea keeper was also at fault for the Netherlands’ second goal, failing to hold a relatively tame shot from Memphis Depay, allowing Davy Klaassen to seal the win in the ninth minute of injury time.
To make matters worse for Senegal, Cheikhou Kouyate had to be stretchered off with 20 minutes left to play and looks almost certain to miss the rest of the tournament. ■