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Hungary 1-0 England: ‘England resembled a flat battery trying to splutter into life’

England lost to Hungary for the first time since 1962

England played their full part as Hungary turned what was meant to be a punishment into a party inside the vast bowl of Budapest’s Puskas Arena.

This opening Nations League fixture was due to be played out behind closed doors as part of sanctions imposed by the governing body for racist and homophobic behavior by Hungarian supporters at Euro 2020.

But Hungary exploited what is clearly an obvious loophole in Uefa’s regulations to ensure England were greeted by a large crowd, comprised mainly of children 14 and under accompanied by adults, and the sort of noisy hostility that made a mockery of the idea this night would act as a warning against future transgressions.

What should have been stony silence became instead a wall of noise and the game was concluded amid wild scenes of joy and a lap of honor by Hungary’s players after Dominik Szoboszlai’s disputed 66th-minute penalty gave the hosts a 1-0 win.

Hungary’s elation was aided by an England display dripping with mediocrity and fatigue in a truly surreal atmosphere.

England’s day started badly as their players were booed by many Hungarian supporters, the vast majority children, when they took the knee in their public gesture against racism and discrimination before kick-off.

Nothing that happened afterwards would make manager Gareth Southgate feel any better – or offer any firm conclusions – as he plots a path towards the World Cup in Qatar in November.

The validity of classing Nations League matches as competitive fixtures has been questioned by many, including Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne, who has condemned them as glorified friendlies.

Southgate will never play any part in talking down England games and things may improve (they will have to) when they face Germany in Munich on Tuesday but this labored, flat effort carried all the evidence of games too far for some of his players.

All eyes were on two debutants, West Ham’s Jarrod Bowed and Leicester City defender James Justin.

Bowen created a good impression with his usual industrious style and was actually one of the visitors’ more dangerous performers, providing the occasional threat on goal. He certainly did himself no harm and will be keen to impress further in the remaining three games of this international programme.

Justin looked composed playing on the left side of defense but took a knock and was replaced at half-time.

Jarrod Bowen in action for England against Hungary
Jarrod Bowen has gone from playing non-league for Hereford in 2014 to making his England debut five months before the 2022 World Cup

Elsewhere, England resembled a flat battery trying to splutter into life, consequently offering very few anxious moments for a Hungary side who were more creative and willed on to the odd defensive block towards the end by this boisterous crowd.

Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, in particular, struggled to find his best form on the right flank but this should hardly come as a surprise given his grueling season chasing four trophies, winning two, and only seven days after the mental anguish of the Champions League final loss to Real Madrid.

England’s lack of freshness was exposed as Hungary troubled them on the flanks, especially the gifted Loic Nego, and through the middle, where tired legs were exploited throughout.

There might have been an undeserved draw in this to further bolster an impressive England record of one defeat – to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final – since they lost to Belgium in the Nations League in November 2020.

But although the visitors had some late openings they could not take them, showing the lack of sharpness and clinical edge that characterized pretty much all of their work.

“We have to accept that we did not do enough to win the game,” said Southgate. “A draw would have been the fair outcome. We did not create too many clear-cut chances and the actual result hinged on a decision which is harsh but probably wouldn’t be overturned.

“It has been a long season. The heat was a factor and took a lot out of the players and we tried to refresh the team earlier than normal. The balance of finding out about new things and the consistency of the regular team, I have to look at whether I got that right.

“I don’t want to be too harsh on them. These are games we need to learn from. They are bitterly disappointed because we want to keep winning matches and if we want to be a team right at the top tier of football, we need to come here and win.”

England boss Gareth Southgate with Hungary's captain Adam Szalai
Hungary registered their first win over England since May 1962 at the World Cup – eight years and 95 days before Gareth Southgate was even born

In reality, England were so far below par they deserved no more than they got and, even making allowances for their long season, this was a very poor show.

They now move on to Munich knowing any test against Germany is formidable. Southgate’s side secured their first knockout win over the Germans in 55 years with victory in the Euro 2020 quarter-final at Wembley last year.

Circumstances will be vastly different in Munich but it will be a stern examination of England and they must rise to it better than they did here against a Hungary team that possesses talent but also has its limits.

Southgate is likely to shuffle his selection once more to provide renewed zest and will hope those who did not get their chance here will excel against Hansi Flick’s side.

“There are players we tried to keep out of the game to refresh the team for Germany,” he added. “That is now a bigger game. We want those challenges. We know we have a good team with some steps still to go. We learned about some individual players and learned about different tactical challenges.”

He will hope this rare defeat is little more than a blip. It was not an occasion England will recall with any pleasure, either for one of their poorest performances in some time or for the environment in which it was played – one that hardly seemed likely to teach Hungary and those sections of their support guilty of bad behaviour. to lesson.

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