PICTURES: Hungary 1-0 England: Post Match Review
- England lost their curtain-raising Nations League match against Hungary 1-0 at the Puskas Arena on Saturday
- Hungarian star Dominik Szoboszlai, 21, scored the only goal of the game, converting from the penalty spot
- Three Lions sub Reece James was penalised for what the referee felt was a foul on home wing-back Zsolt Nagy
- There was a crowd of around 30,000 despite the game being played ‘behind closed doors’ because of racism
- The partisan home supporters audibly booed and jeered the England players taking the knee pre-match again
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Hungary 1-0 England: Gareth Southgate’s men start Nations League with defeat as Dominik Szoboszlai’s penalty from a Reece James foul downs lacklustre Three Lions – as game is marred by UEFA letting in thousands who booed an anti-racism protest
England lost to Hungary for the first time since 1962 on Saturday night. They played like drains and saw a nine-match unbeaten record that started after they lost the European Championship final to Italy last July sluiced into the gutter. If they play anything like this at the World Cup in Qatar this winter, they will be on an early plane home.
But if you think that’s dispiriting, doff your hat to UEFA first because if England had a bad night, UEFA’s was worse. They staged a farce on Saturday night. There is no other word for it. It was supposed to be a behind-closed-doors game, a punishment for the racist behaviour of Hungary fans at earlier games, but that idea was swiftly exposed as a joke. This wasn’t a punishment. It was a party.
An empty stadium? A UEFA loophole meant there were tens of thousands of fans packed into the Puskas Arena in the Hungarian capital for this Nations League tie. Most of them were schoolchildren but there were a few thousand adults here, too. The atmosphere was actually electric. It was raucous and it was partisan. The only fans who were punished were England supporters, who were not allowed in.
To underline the element of farce, the kids who were allowed in sat in respectful silence during God Save the Queen and then booed lustily when the England players took a knee before kick-off, in the continuing protest against racism.
‘Inherited thinking,’ England manager Gareth Southgate called it afterwards. The idea of allowing children to watch this match had backfired spectacularly before it even started.
Let’s give UEFA a round of applause at this point. They started the week trying to blame Liverpool fans for the chaos before the Champions League final in Paris last Saturday, accusing them of turning up late to the Stade de France when the truth was that most of the supporters had been stuck outside for hours, condemned by inept policing.
And they ended the week by showing that they have no commitment to punishing racist behaviour. None at all. This match was a carnival for the Hungarian fans. Not a punishment. This was a match when the home fans roared their team on and gave them an advantage. This was not a punishment. Once again, it was a farce.
UEFA, the governing body of European football, is an organisation that keeps tens of thousands of fans locked outside stadiums when they ought to let them in and lets tens of thousands of fans in when they ought to keep them out. What a shambles. After the desperate week they have had, UEFA’s authority and its credibility are shot to pieces.
Hungary (3-4-1-2): Gulacsi; Lang, Orban, Attila Szalai; Nego, A Nagy (Styles 82), Schafer, Z Nagy (Vecsei 88); Sallai (Kleinheisler 71), Szoboszlai (Fiola 82), Adam Szalai (Adam 88).
Substitutes not used: Dibusz, Szappanos; Kecskes, Salloi, Bolla, Vancsa, Spandler.
Goals: Szoboszlai 66 (pen).
Yellow cards: Schafer 21.
Manager: Marco Rossi.
England (3-4-3): Pickford; Walker (Stones 62), Coady (Phillips 79), Maguire; Alexander-Arnold (James 62), Bellingham, Rice, Justin (Saka 45); Bowen, Kane, Mount (Grealish 62).
Substitutes not used: Ramsdale, Pope; Trippier, Gallagher, Ward-Prowse, Sterling, Abraham.
Yellow cards: Coady 51, James 64.
Manager: Gareth Southgate.
Referee: Artur Manuel Soares Dias.
England’s isn’t looking too solid, either. Gareth Southgate’s ploy of playing a back three with Trent Alexander-Arnold and debutant James Justin as wing backs did not work. Justin may not remember his first appearance for his country with great fondness.
Hungary ruthlessly and relentlessly targeted England’s defence down its unguarded flanks and their winning goal, a second half penalty from Dominik Szoboszlai, came from that route.
Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka were two of the only England players to emerge with any credit but on the debit side, there are still big question marks about Harry Maguire’s ability to recover his authority in defence, Alexander-Arnold still looked uncomfortable in an England shirt and the back three system looked moribund, sterile and vulnerable.
England have five games left – the next is against Germany in Munich on Tuesday – to try to put things right and hope that they can put this defeat down to tiredness at the end of a long season.
They are supposed to be one of the favourites to win the tournament but they looked a million miles away from that kind of team on Saturday night.
It was initially thought that this match would be played behind closed doors as part of a three-game punishment handed to Hungary for the racist behaviour of some of their supporters during Euro 2020 last summer but it had become apparent in the build-up to the match that Hungary would take advantage of a UEFA rule that allowed children under the age of 14 to attend the match.
And so, outside the stadium, street sellers set up stalls hawking vuvuzelas and scarves and ribbons and were soon doing a roaring trade. An hour before kick-off, the Puskas Arena was already a din of blaring horns and screaming kids. There were an estimated 30,000 inside, with one adult allowed for every 10 children.
Perhaps that punishes some of the right people but it still felt like an abrogation of responsibility by UEFA. Having 30,000 people in the stadium, however old they are, is not remotely the same as playing in front of an empty, echoing arena.
The Hungarian kids were a tough crowd, too. When the England players ran out for their warm up 45 minutes before kick-off, they were met by a resounding chorus of boos from the children in the stadium. At least it provided an interruption to the blaring of the vuvuzelas.
After they were booed by Hungary’s children for taking the knee before the start, England began well but still ceded the first chance to the visitors. Roland Sallai burst forward in Hungary’s opening attack and unleashed a shot from the edge of the area that Jordan Pickford spilled. Hungarian forwards closed in but Pickford recovered the ball in time.
Jarrod Bowen, joining Justin in making his England debut here, saw a couple of half chances thwarted before Hungary nearly took the lead. A long ball over the top of the England defence found Loic Nego on the right and his precise volleyed cross ran into the path of Dominic Szoboszlai. Szoboszlai got to it just before Pickford and prodded it past him but as the ball ran towards the goal, Conor Coady scrambled back to hack it off the line.
Pickford was forced into action again after half an hour when a flowing Hungary move freed Zsolt Nagy on the left. Even though his first touch took him slightly wide, his left foot shot stung Pickford’s hands as he dived to his left to push it away. England had more possession but Hungary were making all the best opportunities.
Another, more unlikely one, came two minutes later. The ball fell to centre forward Adam Szalai just inside the England half, nearly 50 yards out, and he looked up and saw Pickford way off his line. He hit his shot first time, high and curling, and even though Pickford back-pedalled as fast as he could, the ball sailed over his head. He turned in relief to see it fly just wide of his right-hand post.
England were struggling to keep Hungary at bay. Another cross from Nego found Szoboszlai at the back post as the ball eluded the leap of Kyle Walker. Szoboszlai tried to turn the ball back across goal but miskicked it and the chance disappeared. He lay on his back, head in his hands, ruing another opportunity squandered. England were grateful for the half-time whistle.
Zsolt Nagy whistled another left-foot shot just wide four minutes into the second half but a minute later England finally conjured a decent effort of their own. Bukayo Saka, on as a substitute for the injured Justin, raced down the left of the Hungary area, cut inside and drilled a shot towards the corner which Peter Gulacsi turned away with his outstretched left boot. It was a welcome piece of urgency in the final third for Southgate’s team.
England were in danger of being overrun but when they finally managed to get out of their own half, they fashioned a lightning counter attack that should have brought them the lead. Bowen led the charge, playing a clever ball to Kane that released him down the middle. Kane saw Mason Mount outflanking him on the left unmarked but Kane’s pass was too heavy and took Mount wide enough for the Hungary defence to smother his shot.
That was a false dawn for England, though. Midway through the half, they tested England’s ragged defence again with a raking diagonal ball and when Nagy took it down and turned inside Reece James, who had only just come on, James bundled him over. It was an innocuous but clumsy challenge and the referee pointed to the spot. Szoboszlai lashed it into the bottom left-hand corner, beyond Pickford’s dive.
Hungary should have gone further ahead 10 minutes from the end when Pickford could only parry a shot from Laszlo Kleinheisler into the path of Andras Schafer a few yards out.
Schafer had the goal at his mercy but somehow he lifted his attempt at a tap-in over the bar. It was such a bad miss a couple of his team-mates consoled him as he walked away.
England had a chance to hit back in the dying minutes as Kane found space for the first time inside the six-yard box but with team-mates screaming for it in the middle, the England captain, inexplicably, chipped the ball straight into the hands of Gulacsi. The kids behind the goal roared and cheered and laughed. It summed up England’s night.
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