England take on Hungary as Gareth Southgate’s men turn their attention back to World Cup qualification.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the Thursday’s Group I encounter in Budapest.
Euro 2020 hangover?
Nobody will forget England’s summer run to the European Championship final, nor the way their dreams were extinguished in such agonising fashion. The wounds from July’s penalty shootout defeat to Italy remain raw but the Three Lions have to refocus as they return to action just 53 days later. Southgate’s men top their World Cup qualification group with nine points after three fixtures and can take a giant step towards next year’s tournament in Qatar in this month’s triple-header against Hungary, Andorra and Poland. But moving on from the Italy loss is easier said than done, with defender Harry Maguire saying the trip to Budapest will be a big mental test for them.
Support for Sancho, Saka and Rashford
As England return to action, there will be heightened focus on those that missed penalties in July. Marcus Rashford is absent from these qualifiers following shoulder surgery, but Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho – who is a doubt to feature in Budapest due to a small knock – are involved. The wellbeing of the trio has been a big topic as the despair of failing from the spot was followed by some sickening racist abuse on social media. Southgate knows a thing or two about costly penalty misses and says he will support his players in whatever way he can, but the England boss highlighted that the players just want to move forward.
Problems in Budapest?
In 2019, England players were subjected to racist abuse in European Championship qualifiers in both Montenegro and Bulgaria. There is some fear about similar issues in Budapest given Hungary were charged with racist and homophobic offences during Euro 2020. They will play their next two home matches in UEFA competition behind closed doors with a third game suspended, but the ban does not include Thursday’s qualifier as that is played under FIFA jurisdiction. Asked about the matter, England boss Southgate said the focus should be on tackling racism close to him home.
Beware of improving Hungary
England are fourth in the FIFA world rankings, whereas Hungary sit between South Korea and Slovakia in 37th. But the visitors will not be lulled into a false sense of security. Marco Rossi’s men are second in Group I after taking seven points from a possible nine, having followed March’s 3-3 home draw against Poland by beating minnows San Marino and Andorra. The Hungarians went on to draw with France and Germany at Euro 2020 as they put in an impressive performance in the so-called group of death. Furthermore, a partisan home crowd is sure to give them something extra.
Bamford ready to make a bang
Given there was so little time since the Euros, Southgate was always going to stick largely to the same group. The only uncapped player in this squad is Patrick Bamford, who narrowly missed out on a call-up earlier in the year. The 27-year-old is determined to grab a chance that is sure to come at some point this month given Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s withdrawal through injury means the Leeds striker is one of only two recognised strikers along with captain Harry Kane.
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