By the fifth goal we'd (almost) forgotten about the craziness in Qatar

Bam, bam, bam! By the fifth goal we’d (almost) forgotten about all the craziness in Qatar: JANE FRYER watches England’s opening match at the 2022 World Cup

Another year, another football tournament and another terrible wrestle with our hopes and dreams. But as the Three Lions first stride out on to the World Cup pitch, nothing feels quite as it should.

For starters, the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha isn’t full. Half of England’s dogged supporters are stuck outside in the searing heat – as the Fifa app crashes and overzealous security guards scan bags, flags and wedding rings – wondering if they’ll ever see a cold beer again and wishing they were back home with the rest of us, skipping work to watch it down the pub.

The team themselves all look a bit pale and pasty, a bit tentative in their shiny new Nike strip. And, horror of horrors, England manager Gareth Southgate has swapped the immaculately fitted waistcoat that got so many middle-aged hearts racing during the 2018 World Cup for a white zippy top from M&S. Oh, Gareth!

Even the Wags – perched up on their purple plastic seats in the friends and family zone – lack their usual lustre. Aside from the odd cross-body Chanel bag, there are no balcony bras, no plunging cleavages, no minis, no maxis, no expensively balayaged hair.

By Marcus Rashford’s fifth goal, we’ve almost – if not quite – forgotten about the corrupt craziness of this World Cup in Qatar. Or indeed, the OneLove armband will-they-won’t-they-wear-it spat after nasty old Fifa said they wouldn’t let captain Harry Kane (pictured celebrating with his daughters Ivy, five, and Vivienne, four) wear it in support of gay rights and inclusivity

Even the Wags – perched up on their purple plastic seats in the friends and family zone – lack their usual lustre. Pictured: Luke Shaw hugs partner Anouska and son Reign


The team themselves all look a bit pale and pasty, a bit tentative in their shiny new Nike strip. Pictured: A jubilant Callum Wilson and Declan Rice with their families at the stadium in Doha

In fact, they’re all dressed in a surprisingly demure uniform of matching football shirts, jeans and designer sunnies – and, presumably, cursing the dreary Qatari dress code. (Particularly, Jack Grealish’s girlfriend, Sasha Attwood, who packed and pushed four massive suitcases through Gatwick on the way out here – all to end up in a football shirt…)

But, perhaps the real shock is that – for a team who haven’t won their last six games – England start with a bang! And they just get better and better and better. Superbly crisp passing, stylish set pieces, goal after glorious goal, and enough drama to justify every single one of the millions of sickies pulled on a day to be forever known in British history as ‘The Great British Bunk Off’.

And, horror of horrors, England manager Gareth Southgate (pictured) has swapped the immaculately fitted waistcoat that got so many middle-aged hearts racing during the 2018 World Cup for a white zippy top from M&S. Oh, Gareth!

There’s a ridiculous array of nasty fouling and foot stamping, a lot of argy-bargy, a spot of full-on rugby tackling against lovely Harry Maguire, and a horrible headbutting clash between the Iranian goalie Ali Beiranvand and his defender Majid Hosseini.

The incident leaves poor Beiranvand flat out on the ground with two cotton wool sticks up his nostrils and a nose the size of a marrow. And then, bizarrely, and although the Iranian team have three reserve goalies up their sleeves – he stays on for a bit longer, despite being so dizzy he can hardly pull his socks up without toppling over again.

But anyway, back to the action, because in the 35th minute England start scoring – bravo, Jude Bellingham – and, well, we don’t seem to be able to stop.

In they go. Bam, bam, bam, bam! It’s as if we’re watching Italy play, or Brazil, or Cristiano Ronaldo playing kickabout with a bunch of school kids. Anyone, really, but England. By the second goal (Bukayo Saka) our hearts start to quicken and flutter. By the third (Raheem Sterling), they’re hammering. Because, yes, Iran are rugged, rattled and ready to fight – but we’re bloody brilliant!

By the fourth (Saka), the supporters – who have finally made it into the stadium – are erupting into God Save the King, and those here at home are clutching each other in ecstasy.

Earlier this week, Southgate said he desperately wanted to ‘bring some real happiness’ to the rest of us struggling back in dreary Britain. Well, Gareth, you’ve certainly delivered – even if you did so in your disappointingly casual top. Because unlike most of England’s matches, this is actually fun to watch.

In they go. Bam, bam, bam, bam! It’s as if we’re watching Italy play, or Brazil, or Cristiano Ronaldo playing kickabout with a bunch of school kids. Anyone, really, but England. By the second goal (Bukayo Saka) our hearts start to quicken and flutter. By the third (Raheem Sterling- pictured with children Melody Rose and Thiago), they’re hammering. Because, yes, Iran are rugged, rattled and ready to fight – but we’re bloody brilliant!

The Wags are all dressed in a surprisingly demure uniform of matching football shirts, jeans and designer sunnies – and, presumably, cursing the dreary Qatari dress code. (Particularly, Jack Grealish’s girlfriend, Sasha Attwood, who packed and pushed four massive suitcases through Gatwick on the way out here – all to end up in a football shirt…)

So much so that, by Marcus Rashford’s fifth goal, we’ve almost – if not quite – forgotten about the corrupt craziness of this World Cup in Qatar. Or indeed, the OneLove armband will-they-won’t-they-wear-it spat after nasty old Fifa said they wouldn’t let captain Harry Kane wear it in support of gay rights and inclusivity this morning. Then there’s the myriad human rights abuses, and all that confiscated Budweiser beer that would have been so very refreshing in the ridiculous desert heat.

Because while the Iranian team is ranked only 20th in the world, has a lot of distracting stuff going on at home and, of course, should have been easy meat, it somehow never quite works out like that. Not for England at least. We never make it easy for ourselves.

So when Jack ‘The Calves’ Grealish slams in the sixth goal and the very thirsty crowd in Doha starts roaring, ‘Football’s coming home!’, we join in from our sofas, bar stools and WFH desks (one eye on the email inbox).

Finally, we dare to hope and dream that this time, just maybe, we’ll be able to put the pain and disappointment of the past 56 years behind us.

Just six more games to go…

Source: Read Full Article