Declan Rice: England had ‘fire in our bellies’ to prove critics wrong in World Cup 2022 opener

Declan Rice: England had ‘fire in our bellies’ to prove critics wrong in World Cup 2022 opener

Declan Rice says England had “fire in our bellies” to prove people wrong against Iran yesterday following criticism of the team going into the World Cup.

England made a perfect start in Qatar as they secured a convincing 6-2 win on a day when Gareth Southgate was vindicated for his team selection and tactics.

Southgate was under scrutiny after a run of six games without a win but England sent a message to the rest of the tournament with an impressive display.

Young stars Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka starred and Rice says the squad wanted to send a message to their critics.

“It was a positive start,” said the West Ham midfielder. “There were a lot of doubts about us before the tournament.

“There has been a lot of talk about us not winning in our last six matches. By our standards, with the players we have got, we know that it hasn’t been good enough.

“But this was a World Cup stage and you could see there was a fire in our bellies. We wanted to prove a lot of people wrong.

“People will say ‘it’s only Iran’ but they have had some good results at past World Cups. In September, they beat Uruguay and drew with Senegal.”

Southgate selected a bold and attacking team against Iran and they delivered.

Bellingham, Saka and Raheem Sterling scored in the first half and goals from Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish sealed victory as England recorded their best start to a World Cup.

Bellingham was outstanding, opening the scoring and exuding confidence as the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund announced himself on the international stage.

The Rice-Bellingham midfield axis worked brilliantly for England, with Rice covering and giving Bellingham freedom to roam.

“We have played together four or five times now” said Rice. “I said to him in the tunnel: ‘This is your stage, go and flourish. I’ll be there behind you to sweep up and give you the ball for you to go and do your thing.’

Jude Bellingham scored his first international goal to kick off England’s World Cup tilt. (AFP via Getty Images)
Jude Bellingham scored his first international goal to kick off England’s World Cup tilt. (AFP via Getty Images)

"I know my role in this team. I am there to stand in front of the back four, protect, get on the ball and move it around.

“I feel like we did that really well. We stuck to the game plan and, in the end, the spaces opened up. You saw the goals we scored with some really lovely play.”

Saka also justified his selection ahead of Phil Foden as the Arsenal winger scored twice to further banish the demons of his penalty shoot-out miss against Italy in the Euros 2020 Final.

“It’s unbelievable what he’s done," said Rice. “It says everything about his strength of character. You saw what happened last summer, everyone was with him then.

“He is flourishing with Arsenal, he is playing with a smile on his face. You see him around the training ground, he is the happiest person around the place. We are all so happy for him.”

Despite swatting aside Iran, Southgate warned England will need to perform even better to go far at the World Cup.

England vs Iran FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar | Group B Match | 21st November 2022

Jack Grealish celebrates with Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Callum Wilson of England (Getty Images)
Jack Grealish celebrates with Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Callum Wilson of England (Getty Images)
Mehdi Taremi of IR Iran scores their team’s second goal from the penalty spot (Getty Images)
Mehdi Taremi of IR Iran scores their team’s second goal from the penalty spot (Getty Images)
Jack Grealish of England scores their team’s sixth goal (Getty Images)
Jack Grealish of England scores their team’s sixth goal (Getty Images)
Marcus Rashford celebrates with Harry Kane of England after scoring their team’s fifth goal (Getty Images)
Marcus Rashford celebrates with Harry Kane of England after scoring their team’s fifth goal (Getty Images)
England’s forward #07 Jack Grealish celebrates scoring his team’s sixth goal d (REUTERS)
England’s forward #07 Jack Grealish celebrates scoring his team’s sixth goal d (REUTERS)
England’s forward #07 Jack Grealish celebrates scoring his team’s sixth goal d (AFP via Getty Images)
England’s forward #07 Jack Grealish celebrates scoring his team’s sixth goal d (AFP via Getty Images)
England’s Marcus Rashford scores their side’s fifth goal of the game (PA)
England’s Marcus Rashford scores their side’s fifth goal of the game (PA)
England’s Marcus Rashford (centre) celebrates with Phil Foden (left) and Harry Kane after scoring their side’s fifth goal of the game (PA)
England’s Marcus Rashford (centre) celebrates with Phil Foden (left) and Harry Kane after scoring their side’s fifth goal of the game (PA)
Bukayo Saka of England scores their team’s fourth goa (Getty Images)
Bukayo Saka of England scores their team’s fourth goa (Getty Images)
Bukayo Saka of England celebrates with teammates Harry Kane and Luke Shaw after scoring their team’s fourth goal (The FA via Getty Images)
Bukayo Saka of England celebrates with teammates Harry Kane and Luke Shaw after scoring their team’s fourth goal (The FA via Getty Images)
Mehdi Taremi of IR Iran scores their team’s first goal (Getty Images)
Mehdi Taremi of IR Iran scores their team’s first goal (Getty Images)

They face the United States in their second game on Friday knowing victory will secure a spot in the last-16 stage. Rice knows there is still a long way to go but is dreaming of glory in Qatar.

West Ham fans like to joke that they won the World Cup in 1966 after Sir Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters scored in the final against Germany.

Rice laughed when asked if he will have the same influence in Qatar, saying “I hope so, I hope so! West Ham fans love that one about winning the World Cup.

“I don't want to get too ahead of ourselves. Of course, there's still a long way to go. We need to keep level-headed. But, look, first game and a big win. You can't ask for more than that.

"It’s the USA next and they are going to be another level up.”