Euro 2016

Szalai ends goal famine upon Hungary's return

Hungary striker Adam Szalai celebrating his side's 2-0 win over Austria. His 62nd-minute opener set his side on the way to victory.
Hungary striker Adam Szalai celebrating his side's 2-0 win over Austria. His 62nd-minute opener set his side on the way to victory. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

GROUP F

Austria 0 Hungary 2


BORDEAUX • Adam Szalai is not exactly prolific.

Hungary's No. 9 managed to go through the whole of last season without scoring for either the clubs he represented, Hoffenheim and Hannover, and he came into this Euro 2016 without a goal for his country since Oct 2014.

On Tuesday, fortunes changed for the man who bought a round of the Hungarian tipple Palinka for 200 people in Budapest to celebrate qualifying for these Finals.

A wayward free header in the first half, which ended up looking more like a clearance than an attempt on goal, betrayed a lack of confidence and Szalai waved an apologetic hand in the air early in the second half after making a pig's ear of another opportunity.

Yet, everything fell into place in the 62nd minute, when he nicked the ball past Robert Almer and ran into the arms of the Hungary supporters to cherish a feeling that was long overdue.

It was the Hungarian's first goal in 39 appearances.

Confirmation this was not going to be Austria's day arrived four minutes later, when Aleksandar Dragovic was sent off for a second bookable offence, leaving Marcel Koller's side chasing the game and down to 10 men.

It was a scenario Hungary relished and three minutes from time they added a second, courtesy of substitute Zoltan Stieber's delightful finish.

For Hungary, making their first appearance at a European Championship Finals since 1972, the 2-0 win was a dream start.

For Austria, ranked 10th in the world after coming into this tournament with high expectations, it was the stuff of nightmares.

They peaked after 28 seconds when David Alaba struck the upright with a left-foot shot. Thereafter Austria never really imposed themselves against a well-drilled Hungary side who passed the ball with confidence.

What a day it was for Gabor Kiraly, the goalkeeper who celebrated becoming the oldest player to feature in the European Championships with a win and a clean sheet.

Aged 40 years and 75 days, Kiraly wore those familiar grey tracksuit bottoms, complete with muddy knees, and the excellent one-handed save he produced in the first half to deny Zlatko Junuzovic suggested there is plenty of life left in him yet.

Whether the same can be said for this Austria team remains to be seen. They face Portugal on Saturday and Koller knows he has a job on his hands to repair the damage, both physical and mental.

"We were too nervous, we lost the ball too many times, I am not used to my team being like this," the Austria coach said. "We knew the Hungarians could play, we were given confirmation of that."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Szalai ends goal famine upon Hungary's return'. Print Edition | Subscribe