KEIR RADNEDGE in BORDEAUX: The complexity of European football was illustrated perfectly here at Euro 2016 when Hungary beat Austria 2-0, sparked by a goal from a 28-year-old who has never played professional football in his own country.
Adam Szalai achieved the all-important breakthrough for the Hungarians just after the hour with substitute Zoltan Stieber claiming a late second. By that time Austria had been reduced to 10 men by the double-yellow expulsion of defender Aleksandar Dragovic.
Hungary deserved their first win on returning to a major tournament for the first time in 30 years. After an even first half they showed more determination and focus in the historic central European derby which grew increasingly tetchy.
The first half was as even as the Danube on a still day with some neat but fragile football from both sides. Hungary’s busy Laszlo Kleinheisler and Abala exchanged early shots at goal without a lot of menace. But half an hour later either neighbour might have gone ahead.
First Hungary’s Szalai popped a ‘free’ header wildly wide after a superb left-wing free kick then a low drive from Austria’s Zlatko Junuzovic forced a diving, one-handed save from veteran Gabor Kiraly.
The track-suited keeper, at 40 years 79 days, had taken to the pitch as the oldest player to appear in the finals, beating the record of 39 years 91 days set by Germany’s Lothar Matthaus against Portugal at Euro 2000.
Hungary forced their way forward in the second half. Man of the match Kleinheisler indulged in a swift exchange of passes which mesmerised the Austrians and their ballwatching was punished by Szalai from close range.
It was his ninth goal in seven years for a country in which he has never played professionally, having left as a teenager for a wandering career in Spain and Germany.
Matters went swiftly from bad to worse for Austria when Dragovic was sent off after a second yellow card for a late tackle. Their increasingly fraught attempts came to nothing when substitute Marcel Sabitzer lifted their best opportunity high over the bar.
The more Austria chased the game, the more exposed they became in defence and Stieber capitalised after a long solo run from halfway with five minutes remaining.
“Our second half was amazing,” said Hungary’s German coach Bernd Storck, going over the top in his delight at the Magyars’ first win in the European finals since they beat Denmark 3-1 in the third place play-off in 1964. He was one year old at the time.