England suffered a shock 1-0 loss to impressive Hungary in a Nations League opener that started with the depressing sound of boos from stands filled with children as Gareth Southgate’s side took the knee.
Nine months ago racism marred the Three Lions’ 4-0 World Cup qualification win at the Puskas Arena, which was half full on Saturday despite the hosts serving a UEFA punishment for discriminatory behaviour at Euro 2020.
There were around 35,000 in attendance for a match that was supposedly being played behind closed doors as Hungary made the most out of regulations that allowed children to attend in such circumstances.
The composition of the crowd made the pre-match jeering when England took the knee all the more jarring in Budapest, where the Magyars went on to secure a shock, albeit deserved, 1-0 win in the Group A3 opener.
Hungary last beat England in 1962 and it was Dominik Szoboszlai who wrote his name into the history books, firing a well-struck penalty beyond Jordan Pickford in the second half.
The decision to award the spot-kick for recently-introduced substitute Reece James’ challenge on Zsolt Nagy looked harsh, but England could hardly argue with the result given how they toiled throughout.
It was a demoralising start to a run of four Nations League games in 11 days for Southgate’s men, who have to pick themselves up for Tuesday’s tough trip to Germany.
Hungary impressed throughout this match against the star-studded visitors, whose surprise at the number in attendance will be matched by the reception for their pre-match anti-racism gesture.
Harry Kane curled the ball wide during a bright England start, with debutant Jarrod Bowen following a blocked snapshot by hooking another effort at goal.
But Roland Sallai had got away a shot before those attempts and Hungary came close to taking a 12th-minute lead.
A move that started at the back ended with impressive Loic Nego greeting a diagonal ball with an exquisite first-time cross from the right that Szoboszlai prodded past the onrushing Pickford.
The ball was trickling towards the line, only for Conor Coady to hack it clear.
It was a let-off for England as play swung from end to end in the humid Hungarian capital, where Coady headed off target before Nagy forced Pickford into a smart save.
The England goalkeeper was breathing a sigh of relief in the 33rd minute after Adam Szalai attempted to score an extraordinary opener.
The Hungary captain’s first thought when turning just inside the England half was to leather an outrageous strike that panicked Pickford before going just wide.
Bowen’s trickery would almost unlock Marco Rossi’s Magyars, who continued to look undaunted in attack and Kyle Walker just got back to prevent Szoboszlai meeting Nego’s latest fine cross.
Debutant James Justin took a knock in the first half and was replaced at half-time by Bukayo Saka, who followed a mazy run with a low shot that Peter Gulacsi stopped shortly after his introduction.
But, again, this was far from one-way traffic.
Nagy fired wide and Hungary consistently unsteadied England down the flanks, with a deep cross leading to a 66th-minute winner.
Recently-introduced substitute James was adjudged to have fouled Nagy when dealing with the ball from the right.
There was no VAR intervention and Szoboszlai stepped up to slam home the resulting spot-kick, leading to high-pitch squeals echoing around the Puskas Arena.
England upped the ante as they searched for a leveller.
Győzelemmel kezdtünk a Nemzetek Ligájában! 🙌🇭🇺⚽️— MLSZ (@MLSZhivatalos) June 4, 2022
Bowen saw a shot saved, Jude Bellingham had an attempt blocked and Coady headed across the face of goal, but Hungary should have made it 2-0 in the 81st minute.
Saka, now playing as left-back, was too far forward and substitute Laszlo Kleinheisler cut in and forced Pickford into a save, with Andras Schafer somehow missing the rebound.
Bowen was denied from an acute angle and Kane rifled into the side-netting as the clock wound down, with Hungary holding on for a famous victory.
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