England hit Iran for six to start in style

There was a lot going on at Doha's Khalifa International Stadium: eight goals, 29 minutes injury-time, protests banned and performed, ticket problems and a concussion controversy, but the abiding takeaway was that England are real World Cup contenders.

Gareth Southgate's team brushed off a six-match winless run to thrash Iran 6-2 with a dynamic display of attacking football.

Fielding nine of the XI that started the Euros final in 2021, lost on penalties to Italy, England were impressive.

The exceptions to that Wembley starting line-up, 19-year-old Jude Bellingham and 21-year-old Bukayo Saka, were both on the scoresheet, along with Raheem Sterling, in an 11-minute first-half spell that settled Monday's match.

Saka struck again around the hour mark, followed by Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish, while Iran's Mehdi Taremi scored two consolations.

"To win by that margin, to play as we did for the majority of the game, you've got to be really happy," said Southgate.

"We were a real threat throughout - but we shouldn't be conceding two goals at that stage. It is a great start, but we have to be better."

There was controversy before kick-off. England players did take the knee, as part of their long-running stand against discrimination, but captain Harry Kane did not wear the OneLove armband after FIFA said he would be booked if he did.

Iranian players did not sing their anthem prompting an interruption in the TV feed in Iran where authorities interpreted it as being support of the anti-government protests engulfing the country. In the stands some Iranian fans made thumbs-down gestures as the anthem was played, others wore shirts with the protesters' slogan "Women, Life, Freedom".

"The fans who aren't ready to support the team should stay home," said coach Carlos Queiroz. "Please, the teachers, the moralists, let the kids play the game. These kids only want to play the game."

There was soon controversy on the pitch. Iran keeper Ali Bieranvand was KO'd by a clash of heads with defender Majid Hosseini as he tipped a cross away from Maguire.

Despite clearly being very groggy he was allowed to continue after eight minutes' treatment. But almost immediately he went down and was carried off on a stretcher.

UK brain injury charity Headway said allowing him to play on was "an utter disgrace" and "an abject failure" of the concussion protocol.

The long delay at least meant most of the fans who had been held up gaining entry due to problems with FIFA's mobile ticket app were inside by the half-hour, which was when England upped the tempo with Maguire heading against the bar.

Bellingham then broke the deadlock, delicately heading in Luke Shaw's 35th-minute cross.

Eight minutes later Saka expertly volleyed in Maguire's knock-down. Sterling soon added a third with a smart finish from Kane's cross.

The second half came to life when Saka rolled in his second in the 62nd-minute.

Porto striker Mehdi Taremi scored an excellent consolation three minutes later but England's four-goal lead was quickly restored by Marcus Rashford seconds after he was introduced from the bench.

Saka and Rashford were two of the players racially abused after missing penalties in that Euros final making their goals especially sweet.

In the 89th minute two more substitutes, Callum Wilson and Jack Grealish, combined to set the latter up for England's sixth.

There was still time for Taremi to convert a 102nd-minute penalty, giving for grappling in the box.