Raheem Sterling is pelted and abused by Hungary fans
Perhaps the most predictable of nights: businesslike victory from England on the pitch, depressing chaos in the Hungarian stands.
The home side will surely be sanctioned for an evening at the Puskas Arena that saw cups and a flare thrown at Gareth Southgate’s celebrating players, as well as the taking of the knee booed with a depressing inevitability, before grim reports of monkey chants.
It is for the latter reasons that there will be no punishment football’s authorities can conjure from their needlessly limited repertoire as the identity of the opening scorer in this 4-0 win.
Raheem Sterling, one of the most vocal advocates of the stance that the Hungarian fans took such delight in booing, shoved that reaction right down their throats with a brilliantly taken strike. It was a night of good responses in that regard all over, really.
One of the images of the game was Declan Rice pretending to drink from one of the many cups thrown at Sterling after his goal.
That deluge came after the England forward took off a top to reveal a heartfelt tribute to his late friend, Steffie Gregg.
Whether it was the word ‘love’ that sparked them after Hungary’s self-inflicted controversies of Euro 2020 is impossible to do anything other than speculate on. Either way, it had the effect of emboldening these England players and ensuring the win became about much more than the procession of a professional win. It also made this a moral victory as much as a crushing victory. It was about making these same supporters who booed suffer, especially as the responses escalated in seriousness.
It just meant England turned on the style, and enjoyed making another statement of their own.
Declan Rice mocks the Hungary fans
By the time Rice made it 4-0, they were literally laughing in the face of everything around them.
All of this again ensured that the football felt secondary to bigger matters, but the players creditably went out and did what they felt best: upping their game, taking themselves to a level way above the opposition Hungary.
There were still pointers for Southgate from the performance. Rice and Sterling had been particularly good, the former starting the move that saw the Manchester City forward finish.
It was a beautifully taken goal, of a class beyond Hungary.
The only slight concern out of the display from a purely football perspective was the slowness of the first half and two big misses from Harry Kane. Both of those can just be put down to this being the first international game back, though, as well as one of Kane’s first full games of the season.
And he still got his goal of course. That is something that remains so impressive about, and is why he personifies this team. There’s a single-minded focus about him. Many might have expected his concentration to go after that first miss and the summer of uncertainty he’s had. Not a bit of it.
Sterling – again central to everything England – clipped the ball in and there was Kane to head home.
Harry Kane reacts to a missed chance
Harry Maguire then benefited from a feeble attempt at a save from Peter Gulacsi, that prompted another pathetic response. That was when the flare was thrown. England’s players just side-stepped it, in the way they were side-stepping so many Hungarian challenges.
Rice was left to wrap it up, making such a show of beaming a smile out. The England players gathered around him, unified.
They offered the best response they possibly could. It was hugely admirable from the players.
Europe now awaits the response from football’s authorities and Fifa.
Hungary had already had a punishment for their supporters’ behaviour during Euro 2020 delayed until the next European Championship qualifiers, because this is officially a Fifa game. Had it stood, it would have meant England played this in an empty stadium. That would have made this game a more pleasant experience. It would not have changed their display.
England showed their excellence. There was no hangover from Euro 2020 for Southgate’s side. They instead put on the most satisfying show they could.
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