Gareth Southgate’s side had copped a lot of flak after going on a miserable, six-game winless run earlier this year.
But they started the World Cup in Qatar like a house on fire, battering the Iranians 6-2 at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
Goals from Jude Bellingham, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish, as well as a Bukayo Saka double, handed the Three Lions their best opening-game result to a tournament ever.
West Ham star Rice, 23, said: “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. 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.”
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Iran had also drawn with Portugal and only narrowly lost to Spain at the Russia World Cup four years ago so the manner in which England dispatched them was impressive.
It was Rice’s 35th cap which shows just how much experience he has for one so young.
He does not normally get nervous ahead of matches but admitted to butterflies before this one.
The midfielder said: “It was funny beforehand. I’m not usually a nervous type but I had that feeling in my stomach, a bit of nerves, a bit of excitement.
“Once you step on the pitch, you see your family there… it all goes away.
“Definitely (it helps). It’s your 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. It’s something you never dream of and then you are here.”
Rice is a relative veteran compared to his 19-year-old midfield partner Bellingham, who ran the show.
The Borussia Dortmund ace showed just why the world’s top teams want him as he nodded in the opener, and then sparked the move that led to Grealish scoring the sixth with an exquisite touch which was both an interception and a fantastic long pass.
On Bellingham, Rice added: We have played together four or five times now.
“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.”
Rice also paid tribute to two-goal hero Saka, who famously missed a penalty in the shootout of the Euros final, for which he was shamefully racially abused afterwards.
Irons star Rice added: “It’s unbelievable what he’s done. 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.”