21.11.2022 18:31 h

Six-goal England can still improve

Gareth Southgate insisted England still have room for improvement after kicking off their World Cup campaign in blistering form with a 6-2 demolition of Iran on Monday.

Southgate's side tore Iran apart in Doha to produce the perfect riposte to critics who claim the England manager is too cautious with his tactics.

Jude Bellingham, 19, opened the scoring and Bukayo Saka, 21, netted twice as England's young guns stole the spotlight.

Saka is the youngest England player to score more than once in a World Cup game, while Bellingham is the second youngest Three Lions scorer in World Cup history behind Michael Owen.

Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish also netted for England at Khalifa International Stadium.

While England hit the ground running in their bid to win a first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup, Southgate was frustrated by the way his team twice switched off to allow Mehdi Taremi to bag a brace for Iran.

With tougher Group B tests looming against the United States on Friday and Wales on November 29, Southgate urged his players to keep working on their focus.

"We are really pleased to start in this way. Iran are usually very difficult to score against, so it's a credit to our players, their movement and the quality of their finishing," Southgate said.

"I wasn't pleased with how we finished the game, conceding two goals. We are going to have be better against the USA because they are going to come at us full throttle.

"I understand the focus drifting a bit but we still have a lot to do to qualify. Of course it is a really good start for us."

Southgate has now won nine matches at major tournaments, surpassing any other England manager.

But in the Southgate era, England were beaten by Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals before losing the Euro 2020 final to Italy on penalties.

Those near misses, and a run of six games without a win heading into the World Cup, had increased the pressure on Southgate, who was relieved to keep the doubters at bay.

"With the players, we have talked all week about setting the right tone and the right intent. That came with the counter-pressing and the way we mixed our game up," he said.

"It's a great start for us. it's a good platform to build on. There are things we need to be better at if we are going to progress to the latter stages."

Southgate also revealed England defender Harry Maguire felt ill just before he was substituted in the second half, potentially making him a doubt for the United States game.

Meanwhile, Saka said England's victory showed what they can achieve in Qatar.

"We needed that good start. 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," Saka told the BBC.

"It is amazing to get the win under so much pressure. But we have to be consistent because we have the next game coming up in a few days and we have to win again."

Saka missed the decisive penalty in the agonising Euro final shoot-out loss.

But the 21-year-old has bounced back at club level to help Arsenal top the Premier League and he justified Southgate's call to start him ahead of Manchester City's Phil Foden.

"I feel in a good place. I feel the support and love from the fans, the coaching staff and my teammates," Saka said.

"That is all I need. I feel ready to give 100 percent and I will continue to do that every time I put the shirt on."