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World Cup 2022: Declan Rice says criticism gave England players ‘fire in our bellies’

Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

Criticism of England’s form before the World Cup gave players “fire in our bellies” in their emphatic opening win over Iran, says midfielder Declan Rice.

Gareth Southgate’s side travelled to Qatar on the back of a six-match winless run and relegation from the Nations League.

But they strolled to a 6-2 victory in their World Cup opener on Monday.

“There were doubts about us before the tournament. We wanted to prove a lot of people wrong,” said Rice.

“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.

“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.

“It was a real positive performance, but we can’t get too ahead of ourselves. It’s the USA next and they are going to be another level up.

“First game, first win. We can’t ask for any more.”

England face the United States at 19:00 GMT on Friday in their next Group B match at the Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor.

Jude Bellingham, 19, scored the opening goal against Iran and produced an accomplished performance in midfield.

“We have played together four or five times now,” said Rice, who was also making his first World Cup appearance.

“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.’

“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 real lovely play.

“I knew I was going to play in my first World Cup. You don’t get that feeling so often. You play in the Premier League every week but this is the world stage.”

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