Hungary claimed their first Euro point and perhaps made one from UEFA as they consider moving the final stages from Wembley in July. Against the might and arsenal of France, Attila Fiola became a national hero with a goal that ignited wild scenes inside the Puskas Arena. Antoine Griezmann’s draw could not detract from the sense of accomplishment felt by Marco Rossi’s fiercely committed team.
The hosts celebrated long and hard after the final whistle. France came out abruptly, supported by a team that everyone in Group F was expected to overcome, unable to find a way past a red wall and Peter Gulacsi in goal from Hungary. Didier Deschamps has a lot to think about after the world champions toiled in the scorching heat of the Hungarian capital.
Budapest is UEFA’s reserve option for the semi-finals and the final if there are 2,500 freeloaders – sorry; UEFA officials, VIPs, sponsors, politicians and broadcasters will be denied exemption from UK government restrictions that apply to everyone else in the country. As a spectacle, a quarter-full Wembley simply cannot compete with the Puskas Arena and its crowds at nearly full capacity and volume. The eruption when Fiola swept the hosts in front of the world champions was truly magnificent, a torrent of excitement that we have waited for what seems like a time to experience again. UEFA’s decision-makers will have taken note.
The sounds, colors and passion of more than 60,000 fans, including 5,700 from France, provided a perfect backdrop. Kylian Mbappé did everything he could to put on a glorious show on the pitch as well.
Hungary started and finished the first half on the rise, playing with the aggression that characterized their approach against Portugal, but also with a courage in possession and ambition that was largely absent in Tuesday’s 3-0 loss. They suffered a damaging and worrying defeat when their captain, Adam Szalai, the towering center forward who is so important to their plans, had to be substituted with just 26 minutes to go. Szalai didn’t appear to be injured, but his team’s medical staff needed help getting off the court. Temperatures were in the 90s at kick-off and his departure was a signal for both teams to take a break to cool off.
After a rough start, during which Benjamin Pavard was severely reprimanded by Michael Oliver for bumping into the excellent Roland Sallai, France asserted their midfield authority and expected the class to speak up from the start. Despite the efforts of Mbappé and the tireless work of Antoine Griezmann, appearing in a 50th consecutive match for France, he remained agonizingly out of reach.
Mbappé created France’s first serious opportunity when, receiving a penetrating ball from Presnel Kimpembe’s defense, he pulled in the Hungarian defense before releasing Karim Benzema to his right. The Real Madrid forward’s low shot was deflected by Gulacsi but fell straight to Griezmann, who fired straight at the fallen goalkeeper when he had to score. His blushes were saved by an offside flag. That would be France’s only shot on goal until Griezmann tied them in the second half.
Mbappé led a high header when Lucas Digne, the only change for the French team that defeated Germany, slipped away down the left for the first time and delivered an attractive cross. The Paris Saint-Germain star came forward moments after a balloon from Benzema. Olivier Giroud, watching from the bench, must have been thinking “If only”. Benzema then squandered a clear opportunity created by Mbappé’s supreme touch and ingenuity. The forward dragged two defenders with him as he ran towards Griezmann’s chip inside the box before pushing the ball back into Benzema’s path. Unmarked, 12 meters away and with only Gulacsi to beat, the Real Madrid striker opened badly.
The young lady assumed greater importance when Fiola unleashed pandemonium with a well-crafted advance. Adam Nagy swept a cross ball to the left side, who headed inside Sallai and immediately ran after Pavard. The spirited Sallai marked a perfect return to space between the French right-back and Raphaël Varane. Fiola entered the area, Varane unable to risk the entrance from behind, and became a national hero by scoring a clean shot inside Hugo Lloris’ right post. Fiola and the rest of the Hungarian team disappeared into the crowd amid delusional celebrations. Gulacsi spent the next few minutes of injury time cleaning the ticker tape from his penalty area. Fiola was still celebrating with the crowd when Oliver blew the halftime whistle three minutes later.
Could they really hold out against a host of attacking talents? Deschamps sent Ousmane Dembélé for Adrien Rabiot to add another quick threat. Giroud entered the fray. But France’s anxiety intensified. Dembélé hit the outside of a post after cutting inside two defenders and Pavard escaped a second caution for an unnecessary foul on Sallai. Lloris claimed the resulting free kick and launched a path one punt deep into the Hungary half. Mbappé recovered, straying away from Loïc Négo down the right and centering low into the six-yard box where retiring Willi Orban could only put one toe on his punt attempt. It fell perfectly to Griezmann, who reached the area, to send a confident shot over Gulacsi.
However, there would be no more punishment for the hosts. Mbappé fired straight at Gulacsi after an orderly exchange with Giroud before the goalkeeper comfortably saved substitute Corentin Tolisso. The whistles for the full time were deafening as France increased the pressure and the VAR rejected a penalty claim for Endre Botka’s pull on Kimpembe as they both fought for a Griezmann free kick. And then, with Varane’s header deflected, Oliver’s final whistle marked another eruption within the Puskas Arena.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism