Szalai, Stieber lead Hungary to stun 10-man Austria
Hungary made their first appearance at a European Championship for 44 years a memorable occasion by grabbing their goal chances to score a 2-0 win over old rivals Austria in a Group F clash on Tuesday.
Austria, riding a wave of national euphoria following an impressive qualifying run, were the better side for most of the game but left the pitch still dreaming of their first-ever win in the finals.
The two teams, meeting for the 138th time, started the tournament with reasonable hopes of emerging from a group that also features Portugal and Iceland who meet later on Tuesday in St Etienne.
Austria, who successfully worked their way through the qualifiers for the first time having won a place automatically as co-hosts eight years ago, began promisingly.
Their most prominent player, versatile midfielder David Alaba, hit the post early on but then faded.
Hungary, once world soccer powerhouses and now eager to bounce back following decades of under-achievement, weathered the Austrian storm.
Gabor Kiraly, who became the first 40-year-old to appear at a European Championship, may be carrying a few extra kilos but the bald keeper with the trademark grey tracksuit bottoms, made a telling save in each half.
The Hungarians no longer boast formidable talents like Ferenc Puskas or Sandor Kocsis and the glory days of the 1950s, when they reshaped football’s landscape with a brilliant attacking game, are long gone.
A rare goal in the 62nd minute by forward Adam Szalai and a late one from substitute Zoltan Stieber rewarded them for a spirited, if less than glittering, performance.
Austria, by contrast, were reminded that converting goal chances is the only way to win a game.
Things not going their way, they ran out of steam in the second half and had centre back Aleksandar Dragovic sent off for a second bookable offence.
Hungary have not appeared in a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup and their previous European Championship appearance was in 1972.
Just being here is a notable achievement for a team that needed a playoff win over Norway to book a trip to France where nobody expects them to excel.
Hungary have a long way to go to frighten the likes of world champions Germany or holders Spain and history will probably be a heavy load to carry for some time. But at least they seized the opportunity to write a new chapter in their fabled story.
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