Adam Szalai sums up Hungary’s dream win over Austria
Striker who had not scored a single goal all season grabs opener
Hungary’s Zoltan Stieber chips the ball over Austria goalkeeper Robert Almer during the Euro 2016 group F match at Stade de Bordeaux. Photograph: Fehim Demir/EPA
Adam Szalai is not exactly prolific. Hungary’s No 9 managed to go through the whole of last season without scoring for both the clubs he represented – Hoffeneim and Hannover – and he came into this tournament without a goal for his country since October 2014. This was the day, though, when everything changed for the man who paid for a round of Palinka for 200 people in Budapest after Hungary qualified for Euro 2016.
A wayward free header in the first half, which ended up looking more like a clearance than an attempt on goal, betrayed a glaring lack of confidence and Szalai waved an apologetic head in the air early in the second half after making a pig’s ear of another opportunity. Yet everything fell into place for the striker in the 62nd minute when he nicked the ball past Robert Almer and ran into the arms of the Hungary supporters behind the goal to cherish a feeling that was long overdue.
Confirmation that this was not going to be Austria’s day arrived four minutes later, when Aleksandar Dragovic was sent off for a second bookable offence. With Marcel Koller’s side down to 10 men and pushing for an equaliser, Hungary added a second three minutes from time, courtesy of the substitute Zoltan Stieber’s delightful finish.
For Hungary, who are making their first appearance at a European Championship finals since 1972, it was a dream start. For their neighbours, who came into this tournament with such high expectations, it was the stuff of nightmares. They never imposed themselves on a well-drilled Hungary side who may well have been underestimated.
What a day also for Gabor Kiraly, the former Crystal Palace and Fulham goalkeeper, who kept a clean sheet on the day he celebrated becoming the oldest player to feature in the European Championship finals. Aged 40 years and 75 days, Kiraly wore those familiar grey tracksuit bottoms with pride and also made an excellent first-half save.
After a nervous start, Hungary moved the ball around with confidence. Laszlo Kleinheisler, playing in the No 10 role, looked dangerous whenever he got on the ball and it was his pass, just before half-time, that gave Hungary an excellent chance to take the lead. Christian Fuchs, the Leicester left back, was left badly exposed as Balazs Dzsudzsak ran in behind him but the Hungary captain dragged a right-footed shot across Almer.
Austria played only in fits and starts, although they did come within the width of a post of registering the quickest goal ever in the European Championship finals. There were only 32 seconds on the clock when David Alaba, the Bayern Munich left back who plays in centre midfield for his country, picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and struck a dipping left-footed shot that came back off the post.
Kiraly was beaten on that occasion but he produced a wonderful save later in the first half. Zlatko Junuzovic, who endured some rough treatment and later left the field injured, hammered a bouncing ball from just outside the area that Kiraly, diving low to his left, did well to claw away with one hand.
Junuzovic was also involved in Austria’s best move of the first half. Marko Arnautovic, with a lovely flick, released Junuzovic just inside the Hungary half and sprinted down the left flank for the return ball. Arnautovic, however, was on a different wavelength to Marc Janko, who had held his run, and the ball slid across the six-yard box, eluding Martin Harnik as well.
Hungary, though, were very much in the game. Almer had to turn Dzsudzsak’s shot from distance over the bar in a warning of what was to come for Austria. Szalai played a neat one-two with Kleinheisler and, with Fuchs playing him onside, advanced on goal. His first touch seemed a little heavy but the second, with the outside of the boot and Almer dashing from his goal to try to smother, did the trick.
Dragovic then picked up a second yellow card for his late challenge on Tamas Kadar, seconds before Martin Hinteregger thought he had equalised. Austria were always vulnerable to conceding a second and it was left to Stieber, running clear on the right, to put the game beyond them with a lovely chip over the head of Almer.