Hungary’s national football team beat Germany by a single goal in the fifth round of the Nations League in Leipzig to remain in the top-flight.
The Hungarians took the lead through captain Ádám Szalai’s superb backheel goal in the 17th minute. The striker, who retired from the national team on Monday at the age of 34, equaled the legend Ferenc Puskás with his 85th cap and his 26th goal in the national team jersey. But the win was no guarantee of top spot in the group, as the other match in the last four was won by European champions Italy against silver medalists England, who were eliminated as the top seeds.
The Hungarian team will finish the group stage of the series on Monday. In the sixth and final round, they will host Italy in the Puskás Arena intact, where a draw will see them finish in first place and qualify for the last four of the series, while a defeat will see them finish second behind the Squadra Azzurra.
Young talent Milos Kerkez tackles Jonas Hofmann during the match. Photo: MTI/Illyés Tibor
The Hungarian team started with a lot of courage and, as in June, they were not intimidated by their rivals. After four or five minutes, the home team took the lead, but despite having more possession, they could not find a gap in the Hungarian defense. The newcomer Kerkez was agile in both defense and attack, and it was one of his left-wing touches that led to a corner, after which the departing Ádám Szalai scored perhaps the finest goal of his career in the crest.
“It is sensational to win against teams like England and now Germany, especially because we did deserve it. Of course, they did put us in a tight spot, but it was more of a passive dominance because they could not create any chances. Even after 1-0 we had the clearer chances. We defended well, we closed down the areas well, they could not do anything to us,” said Péter Gulácsi, who called his Leipzig victory a special one because it was his 50th international appearance for the national team, where he has played for seven years.
Gulácsi, RB Leipzig’s goalkeeper said they had achieved their “unspoken basic goal” by staying in the competition, but it was made even better by the fact that Ádám Szalai, who was on his way out of the national team, scored the winning goal.
“It had to happen, Szalai deserved it. I hope he can score again against the Italians,” said Dominik Szoboszlai, who praised the 34-year-old striker and thanked him for handing him the captain’s armband when he was replaced.
National team captain Marco Rossi hailed the Hungarian national football team’s 1-0 win as a great achievement to remain in the top flight of the Nations League. “Staying in the group is something that nobody expected, but now we are sure to finish at least in second place, it is a huge achievement for the team, for Hungarian football and of course for me. But perhaps the greatest praise comes from the words of Hansi Flick, who said that it is difficult to play against us, it is difficult to break down our defense because we do not give space,” said the Italian manager, who said that the team had to suffer a lot in the second half because they defended deep and could not keep the ball enough, something he believes they need to improve on.
Rossi told MTI that he selected newcomer Milos Kerkez because he is in very good physical condition, he is also very quick and aggressive and looks as if he is not under pressure. “Our worst game in the whole Nations League was the defeat in Italy. And not because of the result, we simply played much better football in the other four meetings. I hope I am not to blame for that,” joked Rossi, looking ahead to Monday’s clash against Italy, which will decide group qualification.
The Hungarian team celebrates after the victory over Germany in the Red Bull Arena in Leipzig. Photo: MTI/Illyés Tibor
“I have to say the Hungarian team did their job well, defended brilliantly, made life difficult for us because they gave us very little space. The first part of the game was the worst half out of my 14 international matches. There was a lack of courage, and also a lot of mistakes. The second half was better, but we created few chances,” said a self-critical Hansi Flick, Germany’s national team captain, who admitted he had not expected to see so few chances in the game.
The Hungarian team will finish the group stage of the series on Monday. In the sixth and final round, they will host Italy at the Puskás Arena, where a draw will see them finish in first place and qualify for the last four of the series next June, and a defeat will see them finish second behind the Squadra Azzurra.
Featured Photo: MTI/Illyés Tibor