|HEY JUDE, DON'T BE AFRAID! Jude Bellingham, one of this year's youngest players, scoring his first ever goal for England, in a World Cup game. — AFP/VNA Photo
HÀ NỘI — England started their World Cup journey in Qatar with a resounding 6-2 victory against Iran in Group B.
The United States and Wales split the honours in the late match of Group B, while in Group A Netherlands struggled against Senegal but found two goals in the final ten minutes of the match.
The start of dreams from the Three Lions
Gareth Southgate's men went into the 2022 FIFA World Cup with many questions surrounding their ability.
A congested Premier League schedule leading into the World Cup led to many injuries to starters Ben Chilwell and Reece James being left out of the squad and poor form in the UEFA Nations League that relegated them into League B made pundits doubt the strength of the Three Lions.
Southgate's starting line-up surprised many, with out-of-favour centre-back Harry Maguire pairing up with John Stones in an unfamiliar back four system. The in-form Jude Bellingham was chosen instead of Kalvin Phillips, his first World Cup start at just 19 years old.
England controlled the game right from the get-go, and after 30 minutes, they almost went ahead, had Maguire's header not hit the woodwork.
Southgate's men did not have to wait long for their opening goal. Four minutes later in a similar fashion to Maguire's chance earlier, Bellingham rose above the Iranian defence to score his first ever goal for England, heading in a Luke Shaw cross.
In the 42nd minute, England doubled their lead from a set piece, when Shaw's corner found his Manchester United teammate Maguire, who headed down for Bukayo Saka to strike a vicious volley into the top of the net.
Fourteen minutes were added on due to Iranian keeper's Alireza Beiranvand's concussion treatment, and it was more than enough for England to find the third. In the first minute of added time, Harry Kane crossed in wonderfully for Raheem Sterling to hammer home and solidified England's grip on the game.
Saka, who was faced with racist messages after his penalty miss just one year earlier in the Euros, was the man of the match. His second goal in the 61st minute proves why he deserved the award: a solo effort past four Iranian defenders, and a curled strike to make it 4-0 for England with just an hour gone.
Iran got one back three minutes later when Mehdi Taremi sneaked past Maguire and scored Iran's first, but England replied quickly courtesy of substitute Marcus Rashford's speed and finesse. His left footed strike reminded Manchester United fans of his best days at the club.
The other England substitutes also made immediate impact, when Callum Wilson was through on goal after Bellingham's perfect pass. The Newcastle United striker was unselfish, and passed for Jack Grealish who tapped in the empty net and made it six for England.
Another concussion earlier from Maguire led to ten minutes being added on to the match, and Iran got a penalty after Declan Rice's shirt pull was examined by VAR. From the spot, Taremi fooled Jordan Pickford and scored the last kick of the match, which ended 6-2 to England.
Southgate's men topped Group B, but the Watford-born manager is still somewhat skeptical.
“I didn’t like the end of the game. To concede two goals the way we did isn’t the level we need," said Southgate.
Football's coming home? Well the progress bar says fourteen percent, with a maximum of six matches to go for the Three Lions.
Boring, boring Netherlands
|Cody Gakpo's late opener gave way for Netherlands to lead Group A. — AFP/VNA Photo
Aloysius Paulus Maria "Louis" van Gaal, fresh from his announcement of cancer remission in April, returned to lead the Netherlands in the World Cup for the third time in his career.
Van Gaal's brand of football, which many fans remarked as "boring" and "sleepy", seemed to have returned in their first match of Group A against African champions Senegal.
A very uneventful first half ensued between the two sides, with Senegal without talismanic striker Sadio Mané, and Netherlands without a recognised centre-forward.
Playing in a back three of Virgil Van Dijk, Mathijs de Ligt and Nathan Aké, with the towering 2.03m tall Andries Noppers between the posts, it is understandable why the Senegalese attack couldn't find the net.
Just as everyone thought the match will end in a 0-0 draw, Frenkie de Jong, after his disappointing first half wasting of a chance, found his composure and delivered a key pass to Cody Gakpo, who was quicker to the ball then Edouard Mendy, and headed in the net to make it 1-0 for Die Oranje.
Aliou Cissé's men went gung-ho for the equaliser, but was punished on the counter in the dying minutes, with Davy Klaassen scoring from a rebound off Mendy and to make it 2-0.
With this win, Netherlands and Ecuador are tied at first place in Group A, while Senegal and Qatar both have zero points. Netherlands will face Ecuador in their second match on Friday, while Senegal must win against hosts Qatar to have a chance of progressing.
Bale rescues Wales
|Gareth Bale's goal from the spot rescued Wales in their first World Cup match in 64 years. — AFP/VNA Photo
In the late match of the day, the United States faced off against Wales in Group B.
This is Wales' first World Cup match in over 64 years, with their last appearance in 1958 at Sweden. The long awaited return was reflected in the eyes of the Welsh fans, who cried during their national anthem, "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau".
For the United States, this was their return to world's biggest football stage after eight years. They did not qualify for the World Cup in 2018 after a dismal performance that outraged fans of The Stars and Stripes.
The USA applied pressure from the start, taking advantage of the speed from their forward. In the 35th minute, Christian Pulisic dropped deep and found a great through ball for Timothy Weah. The son of the President of Liberia and Ballon d'Or winner George Weah made no mistake and opened the scoreline for the United States.
In the second half, Wales manager brought on the towering Kieffer Moore, who created problems for the USA in set pieces.
In the 80th minute, Gareth Bale was brought down inside the box by Walker Zimmerman, and the referee was quick to point to the spot.
Bale converted with a powerful left-footed strike that sends the Welsh men women at the Al Rayyan Stadium wild.
Wales could have won the match eight minutes later, when Brennan Johnson was through on goal, but his shot could not beat Matt Turner and the match ended 1-1.
Wales and the USA share the second place of group B after the first round. Bale and company will face bottom place Iran in the second match, while the United States faces leaders England, both matches happening on Friday. — VNS