Late Goretzka leveller breaks Hungarian hearts
Germany twice came back from a goal down to snatch a 2-2 draw and sneak into the knockout stages while Hungary were agonisingly dumped out at the last
A late equaliser from Leon Goretzka saw Germany secure second place in Group F and set up a round of 16 encounter with England. Hungary, who were in a must-win situation, took the lead twice – their second goal coming straight after Germany’s first equaliser – but were denied one of the great Euro Cup upsets and eliminated from the tournament in this pulsating Group F encounter.
Germany hogged possession throughout the match but were blunt in attack while Hungary defended with determination and countered with vim. Their first goal came from one such counter, with captain Adam Szalai scoring with a fine header. Kai Havertz equalised for Germany midway through the second half but Hungary struck back immediately through Andras Schafer. Then came Goretzka’s moment.
The match was held in a rain-lashed Allianz Arena in Munich, with the downpour increasing in severity as the first half progressed. Joachim Low made one change to the German side that thrashed Portugal, with Leroy Sane coming in for Thomas Muller, who was only fit enough for the bench. Hungary were unchanged from their draw with France.
Germany straight away went on the front foot, searching for the fluidity and skill that had torn apart Portugal’s defence. But the Hungarians were more resilient and looked threatening on the counter. They drew first blood in the 11th minute when Rolland Sallai whipped in an outstanding cross from the right. Captain Adam Szalai got in behind the German backline and threw his formidable 6’6’’ frame into a header that left goalkeeper Manuel Neuer with no chance whatsoever.
At that point, Germany were bottom of the group and staring into the void of elimination. They had no choice but to up the tempo. Hungary’s Peter Gulacsi produced a couple of smart saves before Mats Hummels hit the crossbar with a header. Fellow centre-back Matthias Ginter then hit the follow-up effort straight at Gulacsi, a chance that a more attack-minded player would probably have converted.
But as the clouds broke and the rain started hammering down, Hungary got numbers behind the ball and held firm. The Germans, for all their midfield domination, were unable to find gaps to exploit and went in at half-time drenched and befuddled.
The second half kicked off with the same pattern, Germany pouring forward in waves and dashing themselves against the Hungarian rocks in defence. The Hungarian players put their bodies on the line to block any and every ball coming into their box. And they kept threatening a creaky German defence with every counterattack.
Low switched things up in the 57th minute, with the weary Ilkay Gundogan withdrawn and replaced by Goretzka. But what they really needed was Muller the space creator and he began his warm-up routines on the sidelines in preparation.
Then in the 66th minute, with Muller primed to come on, Germany snatched an equaliser. It stemmed from a mistake by Gulacsi, who rushed off his line to punch a cross away but missed, with Hummels directing a looping header back to goal. As the ball fell, Havertz got to it first and, under pressure from Loic Nego, headed into the empty net from two yards.
Muller then came on for the quiet Serge Gnabry. But from the restart, Hungary caught their opponents napping. The goal scorer Szalai’s clever dinked through ball caught out the German defence and fell for the charging Andras Schafer. Neuer rushed off his line but was beaten to the ball by Schafer, who bravely headed home. Parity had lasted for less than a minute.
With France and Portugal currently drawing in Budapest, as things stood, Germany were going home and Hungary were booking passage to the next round. Before the German equaliser, the outstanding Sallai had hit the outside of the post with a vicious freekick. But after retaking the lead, Hungary switched to ultra-defensive mode and repelled Germany as they searched desperately for a second leveller. The Hungarians looked on course for a result that would shock the world.
But with 6 minutes left on the clock, everything came crashing down. Germany passed and probed around the attacking third before Toni Kroos worked the ball to the edge of the box. Goretzka rushed in to hammer a low shot that Gulacsi got a stretching foot to, but it was not enough to keep the ball out. At the final whistle, German players celebrated ecstatically while the Hungarians crumpled to the floor.
Both the draws here and in Budapest meant that Germany finished as group runners-up, sandwiched between France and Portugal. They will face their old enemies England in the last-16 stage at Wembley on Tuesday. For that match, their fans will hope that the German side that trounced Portugal will show up, and not the undercooked version on show today.
As many predicted before the tournament, Hungary finished last in the Group of Death. But they had played incredibly well, providing Portugal with a few scares and holding heavyweights France and Germany to draws. Their performances in these games will be talked about in their country for years to come. But as the Hungarian players, with tears in their eyes, went over to applaud their supporters and left with heads held high, they knew that they had been six minutes away from glory.