England suffer shock loss to Hungary in Nations League opener
England suffered a shock 1-0 defeat to impressive Hungary in a Nations League opener that began with the depressing sound of boos from the stands full of children as the Gareth Southgate took the knee.
A few months ago, racism marred the Three Lions’ 4-0 World Cup qualifying victory at the Puskas Arena, which was half full on Saturday despite the hosts serving a UEFA penalty for discriminatory behavior at Euro 2020.
There were around 35,000 people in attendance for a game that was supposed to be played behind closed doors, with Hungary making the most of regulations allowing children to attend in such circumstances.
The make-up of the crowd made the pre-match jeers when England took the knee all the more shocking in Budapest, where the Magyars went on to claim a 1-0, albeit deserved, victory in the opening of Group A3.
Hungary last beat England in 1962 and it was Dominik Szoboszlai who wrote his name in the history books, firing a well-timed penalty past Jordan Pickford in the second half.
The decision to award the kick to recently introduced substitute Reece James’ challenge on Zsolt Nagy looked tough, but England could hardly argue with the result given how hard they worked throughout.
It was a demoralizing start to a four-game Nations League run in 11 days for Southgate’s men, who must recover for Tuesday’s difficult trip to Germany.
Hungary impressed throughout this match against the star-studded visitors, whose surprise at the attendance numbers will be matched by the reception for their pre-match anti-racism gesture.
Harry Kane swept the ball away on a brilliant England start, with debutant Jarrod Bowen following a blocked snap by latching another effort on goal.
But Roland Sallai had managed a shot before those attempts and Hungary almost took the lead in the 12th minute.
A move that started at the back ended with the impressive Loic Nego saluting a diagonal ball with an exquisite cross for the first time from the right that Szoboszlai pushed past the pressing Pickford.
The ball was flowing towards the line, only for Conor Coady to clearly hack it.
It was a let go for England as play swung from end to end in the wet Hungarian capital, where Coady missed the target before Nagy forced Pickford into a smart save.
The England keeper breathed a sigh of relief in the 33rd minute after Adam Szalai tried to score an extraordinary opener.
The Hungarian captain’s first thought on turning just inside the England half was to land an outrageous strike that panicked Pickford before going wide wide.
Bowen’s trickery would nearly unlock Marco Rossi’s Magyars, who continued to look unfazed in attack and Kyle Walker had just come back to prevent Szoboszlai from meeting Nego’s final cross.
Debutant James Justin took a knock in the first half and was replaced at half-time by Bukayo Saka, who followed up a mazy run with a low shot that Peter Gulacsi stopped shortly after his introduction.
But, again, it was far from a one-way street.
Nagy fired wide and Hungary consistently unsettled England on the flanks, with a deep cross leading to a 66th-minute winner.
Recently introduced substitute James was ruled for fouling Nagy by dealing the ball from the right.
There was no VAR intervention and Szoboszlai rose to bat home the resulting kick, leading to high-pitched cries echoing around the Puskas Arena.
England have upped the ante as they seek a leveller.
Bowen saw a shot saved, Jude Bellingham saw a blocked attempt and Coady headed for goal, but Hungary should have made it 2-0 in the 81st minute.
Saka, now playing as a left-back, was too far forward and substitute Laszlo Kleinheisler stepped in and forced Pickford into a save, with Andras Schafer somehow missing the rebound.
Bowen was denied from a sharp angle and Kane ducked into the side netting as the clock ran out as Hungary held on to a famous win.