Hungary 1-0 England (Szoboszlai pen 66′)
England got their Nations League campaign off to a poor start after slipping to a 1-0 defeat against Hungary at the Puskas Arena with RB Leipzig playmaker Dominik Szoboszlai scoring the winner from the penalty spot.
There were dispiriting scenes before kick-off as England’s players were loudly booed by Hungary fans – most of whom were school children – after taking the knee. The game was technically played behind closed doors after Uefa punished Hungary for “discriminatory behaviour” by supporters during Euro 2020 last summer.
A new-look England side containing debutants Jarrod Bowen and James Justin were unconvincing throughout and had Conor Coady to thank for not falling behind early on as the Wolves defender cleared off the line after Dominik Szoboszlai had nudged the ball past Jordan Pickford.
Coady then missed a glorious chance to open the scoring by heading over from point-blank range from a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner. At the other end, Pickford was required to palm away a Zsolt Nagy strike before almost being caught out by Adam Szalai’s speculative lob from distance.
Gareth Southgate was forced into a half-time change with Justin replaced by Bukayo Saka after suffering what appeared to be a calf problem. The Arsenal winger almost made an immediate impact by drawing a stop from Peter Gulacsi after a superb driving run moments after Nagy had arrowed a low strike just wide of the far post.
A scabby English performance was eventually punished when Hungary’s golden boy Szoboszlai opened the scoring from the penalty spot on 66 minutes following an extremely contentious award against Reece James, just three minutes after he had come on as a substitute for Trent Alexander-Arnold.
By Sam Cunningham
Hungary (3-4-2-1): Gulacsi 7, Lang 7, Orban 7, At. Szalai 7, Nego 7, Schafer 6, A. Nagy 6 (Styles 6), Z. Nagy 6 (Vecsei 6), Sallai 6 (Kleinheisler 6), Szoboszlai 8 (Fiola 6), Ad. Szalai 6 (Adam 6)
England (3-4-2-1): Pickford 6, Walker 6 (Stones 6), Coady 6 (Phillips 6), Maguire 6, Alexander-Arnold 6 (James 6), Bellingham 6, Rice 6, Justin 5 (Saka 6), Bowen 6, Mount 6 (Grealish 6), Kane 6
Bowen, who was England’s liveliest attacker all game, had a great chance to equalise but volleyed straight at Gulacsi after being picked out by Harry Maguire’s searching long ball over the defence.
James almost atoned for his penalty concession by setting up Coady from a free-kick, but the defender nodded the ball just wide of the far post.
Inevitably as England streamed forward in search of an equaliser gaps began to appear in their defence and Andras Schafer should have taken advantage, firing over with the goal gaping after Pickford had parried Laszlo Kleinheisler’s shot into his path.
Harry Kane was largely on the periphery of the action for the duration but almost snatched a late leveller with a well-struck volley that pinged the side netting.
But England could have no complaints about a result that signalled their first defeat to Hungary in 60 years.
Analysis: England’s fringe players fail to take opportunity
With four games to navigate in the space of 10 days, Southgate named an experimental line-up with Jarrod Bowen and James Justin awarded debuts and Conor Coady and Jude Bellingham handed rare starts.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the makeshift look to the side, England lacked fluency from the first minute until the last and delivered a thoroughly underwhelming performance in Budapest.
Bowen was bright without managing to cap his first game with a goal, while Justin looked assured at left wing-back before being forced off with an injury.
Otherwise, few of England’s fringe players seized their opportunities. Trent Alexander-Arnold has rarely translated his Liverpool form to his national team and struggled at right wing-back, with his replacement Reece James also failing to hit his usual heights.
The central midfield partnership between Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham looked dysfunctional with the Borussia Dortmund midfielder struggling to replicate Kalvin Phillips’ influence in the engine room.
All in all it was a poor performance from the Three Lions and Southgate will have learned little about his squad from the game.
By Sam Cunningham, i‘s chief football correspondent
PUSKAS ARENA — England’s players were booed as they took the knee before a game against Hungary that was supposed to be played behind closed doors due to fan racism.
Hungary were ordered to play three home games without supporters as punishment for fan racism at Euro 2020. The charges were due to racist and discriminatory incidents during their three group stage games against Portugal, France and Germany last summer.
However, the Hungarian Football Association used a Uefa rulebook loophole that allows free tickets to be given to under 14s — every 10 to be accompanied by one adult — to attend behind-closed-doors matches.
It meant that more than 30,000 were in attendance at the Puskas Arena for England’s Nations League opening game where they proceeded to audibly boo England’s players kneeling before kick-off, a gesture they have performed to highlight racial inequality and discrimination.
Dr Csanyi Sandor, the president of the Hungarian Football Federation, wrote in his programme notes: “Uefa has decreed this fixture must be played behind closed doors due to supporter misbehaviour, the lesson being that international organisations do not tolerate even the slightest manifestation of racism and hatred.
“We will do everything we can so that our passionate support remains but that all unsportsmanlike behaviour disappears from stadia so that in the future we will be able to hold every important match in front of capacity crowds without restrictions.”