DOHA, Qatar (AFP) — England made a flying start at the World Cup by outclassing Iran 6-2 on Monday as young stars Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka shone in Qatar, while Gareth Bale salvaged a draw for Wales and the Netherlands won late on.
The Iranian players chose not to sing the national anthem before the match, in apparent support for anti-government demonstrations that have rocked their country for the past two months.
The protests were triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody in September. Amini, an Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after she was arrested in Tehran over an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Despite a build-up to the game dominated by questions about the protests Iran made a dogged start before 19-year-old Bellingham headed England into the lead after 35 minutes.
Gareth Southgate’s side galloped to a 4-0 advantage at Khalifa International Stadium with two goals from man-of-the-match 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 in deep stoppage time.
England captain Harry Kane had been expected to wear a rainbow-themed armband for the game, but hours before kick-off, the English, German and five other European federations said they were abandoning the plans for the “OneLove” insignia.
The armbands have been widely viewed as a symbolic protest against laws in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.
The seven teams said they felt they had no choice but to ditch the plan because of the risk their captains would be shown a yellow card or sent off on the orders of football’s world governing body.
They said they had been prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations because they had “a strong commitment to wearing the armband”.
Meanwhile, The Netherlands needed late goals from Cody Gakpo and Davy Klaassen to beat Senegal 2-0 in a tight Group A encounter.
Aliou Cisse’s African champions enjoyed plenty of possession but struggled to create clear-cut chances without their injured talisman Sadio Mane, who has been ruled out of the tournament.
The Netherlands failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia in 2018 but the three-time runners-up are back in business under veteran manager Louis van Gaal, who led the team to the semi-finals in 2014.
In-form PSV Eindhoven winger Gakpo broke the deadlock in the 84th minute when he beat goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to Frenkie de Jong’s cross and headed home.
Substitute Klaassen added a second deep into injury time after Mendy pushed Memphis Depay’s shot into his path.
The Dutch drew level with Ecuador in the early group standings after the South Americans’ 2-0 victory over hosts Qatar in Sunday’s opening game.
Bale’s late penalty secured Wales a 1-1 draw with the United States in the other match in England’s Group B.
The Welsh avoided defeat in their first World Cup outing since 1958 thanks to a much-improved performance in the second half.
The US took a 36th-minute lead with a fine team goal created by Christian Pulisic and finished by Tim Weah.
Rob Page’s Wales were a different prospect after striker Kieffer Moore was introduced at the interval and Bale hammered in a spot-kick he won in the 82nd minute.
Today, Lionel Messi will start what will likely be his final tilt at World Cup glory when Argentina face Saudi Arabia in the first of four games, with holders France also in action against Australia