England Hammer Hungary in Qualifier Marred by Racist Abuse

Attila Kisbenedek/Getty Images

Hungary 0-4 England

  • England hit four in a blistering second half as they beat Hungary 4-0 in Budapest
  • Monkey chants were directed at some England players — not the first time this team have experienced this on the road for their country.

This was a summer when England were not powered by the hopes and hunches of Uri Geller or Eileen Drewery. And so this will be an autumn when England ride the wave of their summer’s hard graft. Their heroes’ homecoming from a first major final since 1966 began in Budapest, where they thrashed Hungary 4-0 in a game marred by deplorable racist abuse from some home fans.

It is another qualifier on the road under Gareth Southgate in which an excellent England result will only be the second-most significant topic of conversation on the night. The first will be that monkey chants from some of the Hungarian supporters were directed at England players, including Raheem Sterling once he had scored, and 18-year-old Jude Bellingham as he warmed up on the touchline. The most depressing aspect of it is that this is anything but a new experience for these players individually, or indeed as an England team.

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Following what was his 50th cap for the national team, John Stones said that England “let their football do talking.” But for the first 55 minutes of this World Cup qualifier, England did anything but. Luke Shaw, Mason Mount and Jack Grealish got in behind the Hungary defence once or twice, but it was an otherwise nervy and forgettable first period.

Clearly Gareth Southgate’s half-time team-talk did the job. The Three Lions’ second-half display was miles better; they now looked every bit the fluid counter-attacking threat that they’d proven to be on their way to the final of Euro 2020.

Southgate spoke to EnglandFootball.org yesterday about how the team can keep interest in the team high among fans in between tournaments simply by playing well and winning. “We had over 25 million people watching the semi-final, and I don’t know what the numbers were for the final,” said the England manager.

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“The country have been engaged with the team like we’ve never seen for decades. Of course, there’s always this challenge through the autumn period where fans are back into club football and there is a different focus, a dual focus. We can only perform and play well. The key is that the players are engaged in it and enjoying being back together — proud to represent the country and ready to do the job. Then it’s up to us to play well and win matches to engage the supporters.”

England’s supporters were surely engaged, albeit from their armchairs at home due to travel bans on European qualifiers this month because of COVID-19. Grealish played forward to Mount and then the Chelsea man’s first-time cut-back allowed Sterling to side-foot the ball home for the opener on 55 minutes. It was a welcome England goal from a familiar England goalscorer. Some would say the Manchester City man has forged a reputation as the goalscoring talisman of the Southgate era. Here was his 18th goal for his country — his 16th under Southgate.

Eight minutes later, Sterling turned provider. A poor clearance from Hungary’s backline allowed Kalvin Phillips to pick up the pieces in an otherwise vacant midfield, and to play in Mount. His one-touch pass to Sterling allowed the goalscorer plenty of room to cross for the unmarked Harry Kane. Following a few uncharacteristic misses — and there were more to come — Kane threw his head at the ball to double England’s advantage.

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If headers had proven the best way to goal for a misfiring Harry Kane, the same proved true for another Harry. From Luke Shaw’s outswinging corner, Harry Maguire arrived with familiar clockwork-like timing, power and accuracy to clatter the ball down into the ground. Despite its vigour, it was a header which Leipzig’s Péter Gulácsi should have kept out. Instead he spilled it. England were now 3-0 up and cruising.

Sterling rounded the keeper and somehow allowed him time to get back; then Kane was put through beautifully by Grealish but squandered another presentable opportunity. But the principle was that England were finding space and creating chances against a side that both Germany and France failed to beat at the Euros. That will please Southgate, and bodes well ahead of England’s other two matches in this international break.

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The fourth and final goal of a bittersweet night was the icing on the cake, at least in terms of the football. A sustained attack was kept alive by Jack Grealish as he danced into the box on the prowl for an overdue maiden England goal. The ball went back to Declan Rice whose fierce drive from quite a way out proved too hot to handle for Gulácsi. It was another saveable shot, but Rice didn’t care one bit about the goalkeeper’s blunder as he took in the applause from his teammates.

Jesse Lingard, Bukayo Saka and Jordan Henderson were late subs for Southgate’s side, who saw the game out professionally and already lead the group by five points after just four games. If a visit to Budapest brought as routine a win as this, England will be licking their lips at the prospect of hosting lowly Andorra in three days’ time.

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Gareth Southgate sounded exhausted as he spoke after the match about the disgusting racist abuse directed yet again at his players, this time in Hungary. But his side have blazed a trail as an elite sports team able and willing and desperate to tackle social issues — to point out wrongdoing and to lead by example.

“There’s no more that these players or this staff could do in the fight against racism,” Southgate said. Few would disagree.

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