for six moments.
For knocking on two hours, in what seemed a lot longer, England and Iran fought to be the dullest side on the pitch but England managed to have six bright moments to Iran’s two.
Well, to the surprise of no one that’s got a brain, Southgate picked his favourites, you know those ones not fit, not playing and not in any sort of form. And to the surprise of those with a brain they played his way.
They call it patient football. In reality it’s just dullard back and sideways passes, that doesn’t create anything against a team that is just sitting back and playing for a nil nil. I mean, how can you have a throw level with the opposition box, put in a long throw back to the halfway line and two passes later have the ball at the feet of the Pickford?
I was slightly surprised he picked Maddison for the squad, I was not at all surprised that he did not start, nor that he didn’t feature at all, ahead of any of Gareth’s chosen ones. I mean why would you pick one of the few players in the squad that’s in some real form and that can create and break down a defence? When you can have Mason Mount doing nothing.
It took England over half an hour of doing nothing – well with a huge break for an injury to the Iranian keeper – before they opened the scoring. And surprise surprise it came from fast, forward, one touch football. Not slow, sideways, multi-touch.
Shaw got forward and stood up a first time cross for Bellinngham to head home. When did you see Shaw or England do it again?
It didn’t take long to double that lead. I couldn’t believe people were doing their nut over Saka starting, especially of Foden. Saka is one of those players at Southgate’s disposal who has been playing and is in great form. Foden hadn’t even started three of his club’s previous four games before the break – Pep likes to do that when a player is getting recognition and scoring. Bit those same people who were questioning Saka position were ignoring Mount and Sterling being there. Neither of whom have set the world alight for their club this season.
For most of that half though Saka wasn’t justifying his place. He’s spent too much time with Sterling and was mirroring Sterling’s coming inside, far too much. With Trippier seemingly reluctant to get forward and Saka inside there was a gaping whole on the Iranian left that just wasn’t being exploited.
He was in the middle as Maguire headed down a corner and took his shot.
The third again came from going forward with pace and purpose. But again for England it was Kane laying on a ball that he’d love to be on the end of. This time putting in the perfect cross for Sterling. All he had to do was stick out is leg and it was three nil. Though another surprise that Sterling got this right.
For all the hype over the scoreline and the media telling us how great England were, how many balls were played to Kane to give him a scoring chance? None. Sterling, Mount, Saka, Bellingham, Rashford, Grealish, Foden, not one of them provided a ball that would be an assist. You have the best English striker for decades, one of the most lethal strikers at this tournament and not one of those forward players could play him a ball to take a shot from. He ended the game with two assists but not a single shot, on or off target.
It was four just after the hour, Saka with his second. A piece of that greed that doesn’t see Kane fed. Cutting inside, Saka only had one thought, luckily he scored from it.
Then they came in for a bit of a shock. Southgate’s favourites embarrassed. First the Iranian jinks Rice, plays the ball past him and the Iranian striker has totally left Maguire when he slams the ball past Stones – who didn’t really try – and Pickford. Maguire has played 100 minutes – one 10 minute sub appearance and one full game – in Man U’s last dozen league games. Stones has been in and out of his club’s team.
Kane got his second assist a little later when Rashford did a Saka and cut inside and scored with his third touch of the ball. Oh, Gareth was so justified in picking him, they screamed. Not long after he tried the same thing and greedily just hit the red brick wall in front of him, when passing was the only real option. They’re a group of individuals, not many of them play as a team, for all the look of celebrating after a goal they seem reluctant to give others the chance of that goal glory.
One player who did sacrifice personal glory was Wilson when he could have gone for goal but cut the ball back for Grealish to finish off England’s scoring, with their sixth. Wilson had come on for Kane, who left the stadium strapped up after he’d rolled over his ankle during a tackle, which also saw the opposition player land on that rolled ankle. Why not take him off then? England were well ahead, why would you risk it?
There was just time for VAR and the officials to make idiots of themselves. Iran awarded a penalty for a fend off in the box. Now very early in the game the ref and then VAR waved away appeals from England as Maguire was rugby tackled to the ground. NO one could really see what England were penalised for but that first challenge was so blatant and obvious it was unbelievable. No, it’s FIFA, it’s VAR, it was no real surprise.
This post has been brought to you by the word surprise and the numbers 6 and 2…