Scotland’s Euro 2024 dream dies as stoppage-time goal gives Hungary hope

Scots go out without a shot on target as Csoboth struck to ensure that Hungary finish third

Hungary's Kevin Csoboth scores the winner. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Group A: Scotland 0 Hungary 1 [Csoboth 99]

Kevin Csoboth’s goal in the ninth minute of injury-time gives Hungary a fighter’s chance of reaching the knockout stages at these ridiculously exciting European Championships.

Scotland go home, as usual, to think again.

The Scots finished Group A by pounding half-chances into their well-travelled fans. Maybe the Tartan Army could sing a goal past Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi. All they wanted was one shot on target, just the one. Despite 10 minutes of injury-time, due to a serious injury suffered by Hungary forward Barnabás Varga, it never came.

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In injury time, Lewis Morgan centred for Scott McTominay but the Manchester United midfielder lunged and skied the ball into the gloom.

Then Csoboth struck to ensure that Hungary finish third in the group on three points with a minus three goal difference.

Above all other nationalities competing at these Euro, being Scottish and Turkish was about reintroducing themselves to a continent neither is a part of.

The loudest and proudest, they came to Germany in their hundreds of thousands, sporting kilts with nothing underneath. The craic has been mighty.

What made the Scottish so easy to love, from Munich to Cologne to Stuttgart is how different they have been to the English. Just before the second-half started a Uefa DJ decided to play Sweet Caroline. The Scots booed in unison until it was stopped.

Europeans now understand the difference between being from England and being British. It’s been a history and sociology lesson rolled into a four-word song: “No Scotland, No Party.”

Scotland fans watching the game. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

No violence, no talk of wars – except the anthem Flower of Scotland referencing resistance to “Lord Edward’s army” in the 13th century – Scotland have been the epitome of good, clean, boozy fun. Their bagpipers march on every stadium has been a sight to behold.

Unfortunately, their performances have been terrible. Two goals scored, seven conceded.

Many a detour has seen Scots appearing at every other Group game, in platoons of twos and threes, putting a smile on German, Italian, Spanish faces. Rubbing shoulders with initially suspicious Albanians, Poles, Serbs, simply because they know these summer adventures are few and far between.

It’s been emotional. It ends in Stuttgart – the city that made Irish people believe anything was possible on a sporting field. Euro ‘88 was the Republic of Ireland’s first major tournament. On June 12th, 36 years ago, in this very place, Jack Charlton’s side burst into the global sporting consciousness by beating England 1-0 thanks to a goal by a Glaswegian named Ray Houghton.

Two years later, at the World Cup in Italy, Ireland went where Scotland have always failed to go, reaching the knockout stages, even beating Romania on penalties before losing 1-0 to the hosts in Rome.

Led by Robertson, this Scotland group have been vocally determined to separate themselves from the teams of 1954, 1958, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1998 and 2021.

But they failed. All of these Scottish sides failed to escape the group stages at a major tournament. After Germany humiliated them 5-1 in Munich on opening night, they dusted themselves down to draw 1-1 Switzerland thanks to a goal from Scott McTominay of pulsating quality.

But Hungary were never going to read an Irvine Welsh-scripted version of this game and play along.

Early on, Bendeguz Bolla tested Angus Gunn’s sticky gloves from 30 yards. Gunn parried and recovered.

The traditional back four is back in-vogue at these Euros, but not here. Both teams set up with three centre-halves which encouraged John McGinn and McTominay to push up alongside Che Adams as Scotland used a 3-4-3 formation.

Players of Hungary pose for a photo as Dominik Szoboszlai of Hungary of Hungary holds the shirt of Barnabas Varga (not pictured), who left the field following an injury. Photograph: Carl Recine/Getty

Such an ambition is what brought Clarke’s men to this moment. Hungary sat deep and sought to sucker punch with eight players sprinting forward whenever the Scots coughed up possession. The transitional-rush employed by their Italian coach Marco Rossi is precisely how Troy Parrott scored the winner against them in their warm-up game in Dublin earlier this month. It also failed to work against Germany and Switzerland.

It went the other way here. Their unorthodox approach was visible from kick-off as nine Hungarians lined up on the left of the centre circle to chase Roland Sallai’s high ball. Scotland easily cleared the rugby gimmick.

Hungary also came for blood. Three yellow cards were flashed by Argentina referee Facundo Tello in the first-half alone; the English born Callum Styles for a lunging tackle on McGinn, Orban for taking a lump out of the Aston Villa attacker and Andras Schafer for diving.

Scotland huffed and puffed but a narrative of their tournament has been an inability to fashion chances.

Liverpool’s Dominik Szoboszlai was the only truly world-class performer on view. His perfectly weighted free-kick should have been rewarded by Orban at the back post but the centre-half’s header glanced the top of the crossbar.

It was a let-off. So was Szoboszlai blasting over as Hungary finished the first-half the stronger side.

The crowd inside Neckarstadion in Stuttgart went silent on 68 minutes when Varga fell awkwardly in the Scotland six yard box after Scottish defender Anthony Ralston and goalkeeper Angus Gunn collided with each other.

Medics immediately entered the pitch, with a cover placed around Varga as the 29-year-old received emergency attention. Six minutes later, following a VAR check for a penalty, play resumed.

Again, Hungary finished the superior outfit with Csoboth hitting the post before coming up with the winner.

Scotland: Gunn; Hendry, Hanley, McKenna; Ralston (McLean 83), Gilmour (Christie 83), McGregor, Andrew Robertson (Morgan 89); McTominay, McGinn (Armstrong 76); Adams (Shankland 76).

Hungary: Gulacsi; Botka, Orban, Dardai (Szalai 74); Bolla (Csoboth 86), Schafer, Styles (A Nagy 61), Kerkez (Z Nagy 86); Sallai, Szoboszlai, Varga (Adam 74))

Referee: Facundo Tello (Argentina).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent