SoccerEuro 2024

Toni Kroos runs the show as Germany become first team to confirm qualification for last 16

Rather than a reborn Golden Team, Hungary looked like a typical tournament minnow with slow players just trying to stay alive

Ilkay Guendogan and Toni Kroos after beating Hungary. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty
Group A: Germany 2 Hungary 0

Germany became the first team to confirm their qualification for the second round, beating Hungary 2-0 in Stuttgart.

It may turn out that the most consequential thing any coach did at this Euros was Julian Nagelsmann persuading Toni Kroos to come out of international retirement. Once again the Madrid maestro ran the show, projecting that effortless assurance that spreads confidence in his team-mates and feelings of inferiority and despair in opponents.

The Dutch TV pundit Rafael van der Vaart had scoffed at Scotland’s failure to mark Kroos last Friday. But marking him is easier said than done. It is not that he’s a perpetual motion – he plays at almost a golfer’s tempo and if he ever so much as breaks into a trot it’s a sign that something has gone wrong. But he has an extraordinary capacity to delay his decision on where the ball is going to go until the last microsecond before a challenger arrives, and then jab an accurate pass to a team-mate. He completed 140 passes here, 35 more than any other player even attempted.

The composure and intelligence of Kroos and Ilkay Gündoğan is the ideal complement to the energy and inspiration of the young attacking midfielders Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz, and the balance is completed by the tireless support work of Leverkusen’s Robert Andrich.


This midfield combination, which has been the most impressive unit in the tournament so far, was not really obvious a year ago. To get to this point, Nagelsmann had to break up a Bayern-bloc that had dominated for a few years – moving Joshua Kimmich back to right back, benching Thomas Müller, dropping Leon Goretzka from the squad, and placing his trust in the 33-year-old Gundogan. These decisions all look good in hindsight.

Hungary's midfielder Adam Nagy fights for the ball with Jamal Musiala. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP via Getty

Kai Havertz and Andrich had already gone close by the time Germany took the lead midway through the first half. Jonathan Tah won the ball in midfield and Wirtz arrowed a low pass to Musiala in the D. Gündoğan made a burst into the box and Musiala’s poked pass was going to be cut out by the covering Willi Orban – until Gündoğan barged into Orban to knock him off balance.

The Hungarian centre-back stumbled and fell on the ball, giving Gündoğan the chance to pounce and try to spin away from the advancing keeper Peter Gulacsi. Bendeguz Bolla stuck out a desperate leg but only succeeded in knocking the ball against his keeper’s knee, leaving Gundogan with a simple task to tee up Musiala to smash it in from eight yards.

There was a pause for a goal check – evidently VAR were doubtful about that Gündoğan barge – but in the end the Dutch officials decided there wasn’t enough in it for them. A hometown decision which drew a furious reaction from the Hungarian fans reacted furiously when the goal was eventually replayed on the big screen.

In the 39th minute the black-T-shirted Hungarian ultras struck up a chorus of Gigi D’Agostino’s L’Amour Toujours. The 1999 dance tune has lately become notorious due to a spate of viral videos showing people in Germany singing along to it with the words “Deutschland den Deutschen, Ausländer Raus” – Germany for the Germans, foreigners out.

The Austrian national team had been using L’Amour Toujours as their goal celebration music and it was on the playlist they submitted to Uefa in March, but the governing body informed them at the end of May that due to its recent “misuse” it could not be played in stadiums at this tournament.

The trolling song quietened the German crowd more effectively than anything the Hungarian team had been capable of. They came to this tournament with high hopes – dreaming not just of improving on their performance in the last Euros, where they drew with both Germany and France – but, more ambitiously, of showing the world a rebirth of the distinctive Danubian strain of football brilliance that was thought to have gone extinct in the 1950s.

Then they lost unexpectedly to Ireland in that pre-tournament warm-up, and frankly it seems to have crushed something in their spirit.

They had arrived in Dublin having not lost in 14 matches, a run stretching back to September 2022. Szoboszlai had never lost a match as captain of the national team. Troy Parrott put a stop to all that, and playing the way they have done here, you wonder how they ever went unbeaten that long.

Rather than a reborn Golden Team, Hungary looked like a typical tournament minnow with slow players just trying to stay alive in a conventional defensive formation.

Szoboszlai, the hero of the qualifying campaign with four goals, looked more like the player we have seen at Liverpool in the second half of last season – peripheral, unsure of himself, generally looking nothing like a 70 million euro player. He is well known to the German crowd from his time at RB Leipzig, they knew he was the symbol of the Hungarian team, and one of the biggest cheers of the match came in the 55th minute when Jonathan Tah bulldozed him out by the touchline.

Having scored the opener in the 22nd minute of the first half, Germany made the game safe in the 22nd minute of the second. Kroos found Musiala with a first-time pass, Musiala pausing to draw three Hungarian defenders before passing outside to Mittelstadt, who cut it back low for Gundogan to roll in a well-deserved goal. The Germany captain, outstanding in both games so far, was named man of the match.

As for Hungary, they need to beat Scotland next Sunday evening by a few goals, and hope other results fall their way.

Ken Early

Ken Early

Ken Early is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in soccer