Iranian state television, during its live broadcast, censored the footage of the players lining up before the match as the anthem was played. On the eve of the match, captain Ehsan Hajsafi, who plays in Greece, became the first member of the Iranian team to speak out from the World Cup on the situation at home, saying “we are with them.And we support them. And we sympathise with them.” Despite a build-up to the game dominated by questions about the protests in their homeland, Iran made a dogged start before 19-year-old rising star Jude Bellingham headed England into the lead after 35 minutes. Gareth Southgate’s side galloped into a 4-0 lead thanks to two goals from player of the match Bukayo Saka and a fine Raheem Sterling strike before Iran belatedly fought back with Mehdi Taremi scoring.
England put the result beyond doubt as substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish each netted before Taremi scored a consolation penalty. “We haven’t played the best coming into the tournament. There was a lot of talk and speculation about our form but we showed everyone how much quality we have and what we can do,” said Saka, whose last major tournament ended with him missing a penalty in the Euro 2020 final shootout.