Four second-half goals saw England secure victory away to Hungary and maintain their 100 per cent record after four Group I games in World Cup qualification. After a testing first half for Gareth Southgate’s side, in which they struggled to break down an obdurate Hungary team, the floodgates opened after the break in Budapest.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Harry Maguire all found the net as England took the game away from their hosts in a 14-minute period after half time before Declan Rice rounded off the victory with a fourth late on. The celebrations that followed each goal, however, did bring some unsavoury scenes from the stands as a section of Hungary ultras threw bottles and also a flare at England players.
The Hungarian FA had already been facing Uefa sanctions for alleged racist and homophobic chanting by their country’s supporters during the Euros, and this game would have been played behind closed doors had it been a Uefa match rather than a Fifa qualifier. Further punishments will most likely follow for the home federation.
Story of the game
Fifty-three days had passed since England’s European Championship final defeat to Italy on penalties and, despite this being a return to qualification, Southgate stuck with the majority of the same starting line-up albeit with a switch to a back four.
Hungary, who held Germany and France in their Euros group in the summer, set up to perform a containment job on their visitors and it largely worked in what was an arduous first half. There were long-range sighters from Kane and Mason Mount but neither were even close to finding the target.
Instead, England kept working the ball in an attempt to try and prise an opening. Marco Rossi’s team played with every man behind the ball for much of the opening period and offered little in terms of attack. That said, Adam Szalai did give John Stones a scare at the back when he almost wrestled the ball from the centre-back close to Jordan Pickford’s goal.
A bit more enterprise was needed from England to capitalise on what was otherwise a dominant performance. Such quality arrived when Kyle Walker slid a lovely pass through the Hungary defence for Kane to run on to. Willi Orban kept Kane company, trying to pressure him off the ball, which led to the England captain scuffing his shot allowing Peter Gulasci to save.
It was 10 minutes into the second half that England finally found the back of the net. Jack Grealish streamed down the left flank before laying off Mount. His first-time cross from the byline into the area arrived at the feet of Sterling who finished past Gulasci.
A second followed four minutes later when Hungary gave the ball away cheaply with Kalvin Phillips intercepting and playing forward towards Mount. The Chelsea attacker flicked the ball on perfectly into Sterling’s path and with a quick pull-back into the area, Kane was in position to head in to double England’s advantage.
Kane had chances to increase his tally. Along with his scuffed effort earlier in the half, the Tottenham Hotspur striker was denied by Gulasci’s legs when he sent a shot too close to the Hungary goalkeeper, and then another attempt was easily stopped by the same means. All three were chances that one would expect Kane to finish.
Still, that didn’t stop England at large. A third goal came in the 69th minute when Luke Shaw delivered a corner from the left and Maguire’s header squirmed past Gulasci. Hungary were tiring and a late aberration by the hosts’ goalkeeper allowed England a fourth late on when Rice’s shot from outside the area found its way into the goal.
Tougher action needed for abuse
This was a predictable night in more way’s than one: England dispatched Hungary in businessman-like fashion whilst abuse rained down from the stands in Budapest. ITV reported that Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham, when warming up on the sidelines, were subjected to racist chanting in the closing stages of the evening.
Although this may not have come as a surprise it is depressing nevertheless. What’s more, bottles and even a flare were thrown down from the stand behind the goal when England celebrated their goals in the second half. Prior to the game, the boos which greeted England taking the knee were the loudest heard inside a football stadium, according to some reporters in Budapest.
It is clear that the action which Uefa are taking is not enough. Hungary are due to play their next two ‘Uefa’ matches in the Nations League next summer behind closed doors after similar discriminatory behaviour took place in the Puskas Arena during the European Championship.
Southgate said ahead of this match that England need to get their own house in order when it comes to racist abuse before going after other nations’ fans, but any abuse is wrong and it once again overshadowed a match in the most depressing of ways.
Tough away game ticked off
To matters on the pitch and after a slow start England will be happy with how they prised open the Hungarian defence and scored four second-half goals. It means that England are edging closer to qualifying for next winter’s World Cup and have so far scored 13 goals and only conceded one in their four group games.
This trip to Hungary, along with the visit to Poland next Wednesday, were deemed the toughest of the group, but the ease with which they defeated their hosts, in the end, showed how comfortably England should win this group.
The hosting of Andorra at Wembley on Sunday offers Southgate a chance to rotate and experiment to an extent - although what quite one can learn from a game against one of Europe’s minnows is debatable. Still, expect Patrick Bamford to make his debut and also minutes for Bellingham, Jesse Lingard and Nick Pope in goal before the first-teamers return in Warsaw for the final game of this international break.
Southgate said afterwards that his players will continue to set the right example when it comes to educating the racists. The England manager, who didn’t hear any of the chanting that was directed at England players, said: “Everybody knows what we stand for as a team, and that’s completely unacceptable. Our head of security has spoken with the players and has taken their statements, and we’ll deal with it in the right way now and through the right channels.
“I don’t think our players can do anything more than they have done over the last two or three years in trying to get the right messages out, take the right stand and it’s for other people to protect them. It’s for me to protect them in the main, but it’s for the authorities to protect them as well. They shouldn’t have to be subjected to any form of racism.
“I have to say there is a balance in the crowd. Not everybody at home causes problems and tonight our national anthem was really respected remarkably well. So it’s not fair to criticise all of the Hungarian fans.
“A lot of the Hungarian fans were very generous and behaved themselves extremely well. That’s a very similar situation to the one we find at home [but] the individuals who are responsible, they need to be dealt with.
“I think there is some evidence, people have been filmed and we’ve got to hope the authorities deal with that in the right way. We will continue to do what we do — continue to try to set the right example for young people in our own country who will be more influenced than they will elsewhere.”
Matters on the pitch signalled that there is little hangover from England’s disappointing final defeat in the Euros. The England manager added that he was proud of the performance from his players in their first match since losing the Euro 2020 final on July 11 to Italy.
“From the start, right the way through, the players were excellent, [and had a] very good mentality,” he said. “We could have had even more [goals]. We’ve made what was a very difficult fixture — which we know from seeing France play here, seeing Portugal play here — we’ve made a difficult fixture very comfortable in the end.”
Hungary: Gulasci; Bolla (Varga 70), Kecskes, Orban, Szalai, Fiola; Sallai (Salloi 66), Kleinheisler (Gazdag 82), Schafer, Szoboszlai; Szalai.
England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Phillips, Rice (Henderson 88); Sterling, Mount (Lingard 84), Grealish (Saka 88); Kane.
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).