Loss to Hungary not a tragedy: Croatia coach

Adam Szalai celebrating after scoring the equaliser for Hungary, who went on to beat Croatia 2-1 in their Group E Euro 2020 qualifier in Budapest on Sunday.
Adam Szalai celebrating after scoring the equaliser for Hungary, who went on to beat Croatia 2-1 in their Group E Euro 2020 qualifier in Budapest on Sunday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BUDAPEST • The signs were there after Croatia got their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign off to a shaky start with a "more difficult than expected" home win over minnows Azerbaijan last Friday.

And those same bundle of nerves were again on display as Hungary ran out deserving 2-1 winners against the World Cup finalists in their Group E meeting in Budapest on Sunday.

The Hungarians have been somewhat of a bogey team for the away side, who have yet to beat them in four games since 2004, and after slipping to a third straight defeat on their travels, Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic admitted "it was not going to be easy, as against Croatia, everyone plays 200mph".

He said: "I congratulate Hungary on the victory, aggression and fight. We were not creative. It was not good in attack until (Josip) Brekalo came on and gave us width.

"We knew it would be difficult in this qualifying group. We brought on another striker (in Bruno Petkovic) and played three at the back, but nothing.

"This is not a tragedy, we are the World Cup runners-up but lost."

Dalic's men took an early lead at the Groupama Arena through Ante Rebic after 13 minutes, but a lack of defensive organisation allowed Adam Szalai to draw Hungary level 20 minutes later.

Mate Patkai then scored the winner - his first international goal - from a corner in the 76th minute to condemn Croatia to fourth place in the group.

Earlier, Daniel James netted his first international strike on his competitive debut as Wales edged out Slovakia 1-0 at home.

Ryan Giggs' players will visit Croatia in their next qualifier on June 8.

Elsewhere, Eden Hazard marked his 100th cap with an early goal to set Belgium on their way to an easy 2-0 Group I win in Cyprus, with Michy Batshuayi getting the other.

Poland made it two wins out of two after second-half goals by Robert Lewandowski and Kamil Glik gave them a 2-0 home victory over Latvia in Group G.

REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2019, with the headline 'Loss to Hungary not a tragedy: Croatia coach'. Print Edition | Subscribe