England thrashed Iran 6-2 to get their World Cup challenge off to a flying start on Monday after the Iranian players chose not to sing their anthem in apparent support for anti-government protests at home.
The Iranian players stood impassively as their anthem rang out before their opening match of the tournament in the Qatari capital Doha.
Captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said before the game that the team would decide together whether or not to refuse to sing the anthem in solidarity with the nationwide protests that have rocked Iran.
They 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 in their homeland, Iran made a dogged start before 19-year-old rising star Jude Bellingham headed England into the lead after 35 minutes.
Gareth Southgate’s side galloped into a 4-0 lead thanks to two goals from man of the match Bukayo 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 at the Khalifa International Stadium.
England’s captain Harry Kane had been expected to wear a rainbow-themed armband for the match, but hours before kick-off, the English, German and five other European federations said they were abandoning the plan to wear 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.
“FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the federations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland said in a statement.
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”.
“However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play,” they said.
Across the groups
The other game in England’s Group B pits the USA against Gareth Bale’s Wales, playing in their first World Cup since 1958.
The Netherlands take on Senegal in Group A, with the African champions missing their injured talisman, Sadio Mane, who has been ruled out of the tournament.
The Dutch 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.
Meanwhile, the Qatari media slammed their team after they were beaten 2-0 by Ecuador on Sunday, becoming the first host nation to lose their opening match of a World Cup.
“Our players didn’t perform as needed,” the Al Watan daily said. “Our national team skipped the opening.”