Goretzka sets up Germany v England last-16 tie after Hungary threaten shock

Sport

On the one hand Gareth Southgate may feel gratified but, on the other, he might detect significant cause for concern. Surely Germany will be better than this when they face England at Wembley on Tuesday, an outcome that for most of a chaotic night seemed beyond them, and if they are not then those Euro 96 ghosts will probably be banished at last. They were six minutes from finishing bottom of Group F and this result was an affront to a dogged, clever Hungary side who came close to completing a shock for the ages.

It would have been Hungary rolling back the years, albeit a few decades further, in London if the substitute Leon Goretzka had not hammered low past Peter Gulacsi from 16 yards to equalise and break their hearts.

Germany had thrown everyone, including a half-fit Thomas Müller, at an increasingly desperate situation; events in Budapest, of all places, meant they could only rely on themselves to stave off ignominy and ultimately their depth of quality proved decisive.

Nonetheless, their proponents may be ready to stand down as quickly as they had piped up. Germany were irresistible against Portugal on Saturday but here, against opposition determined to give nothing away for free, they laboured for most of the night. They also looked distinctly wobbly at the back and both Hungary goals, while well taken, will raise hopes that England’s shot-shy attack may not go hungry.

The first of them came after Germany had begun well, Joshua Kimmich forcing a solid stop from Gulacsi. Hungary were never going to park the bus completely given the possibilities a win would earn them, and they broke through from their second meaningful attack. Germany should have stopped the goal at source but Toni Kroos offered no opposition to Roland Sallai’s deep cross from the right; the delivery was perfect when it came and Adam Szalai, the hulking centre-forward who had been an injury doubt, flung himself at the ball before crashing an exhilarating header past Manuel Neuer.

The largely black-clad pocket of away supporters behind Neuer’s goal went berserk. The brittleness that lurks not too far beneath much of Germany’s work had resurfaced and, just like that, they now propped up the table.

Mats Hummels, who had not been blameless after losing Szalai’s run, almost atoned but hit the bar after connecting firmly with a corner. From thereon, a first half played amid a biblical storm went exactly as Hungary would have wished. Germany were missing their traffic director in chief, Müller, who was fit enough only for a place on the bench; they lacked presence, impetus and bravery as a result and something had to change.

Eventually it did, although not before a slow start to the second half that saw Müller embark meaningfully on several warm-up sprints along the touchline. The excellent Sallai struck the outside of Neuer’s post with a free-kick but then, with Müller poised for his rescue act, Kai Havertz appeared to have rendered it unnecessary.

The goal was a disaster for the otherwise excellent Gulacsi, who missed his punch from a Kroos free-kick. Hummels was able to loop a header towards goal and Havertz, two yards out, nodded in. On came Müller anyway, and the storm clouds seemed to have drifted back over the Alps.

Within seconds they returned with an astonishing twist. Hungary attacked from the restart and Szalai dinked a smart ball through to the rampaging Andras Schafer. An ill-judged dash from goal by Neuer was punished by the midfielder, who got there first and headed into the vacant net. It was another horror show from Germany’s back line.

Hungary’s players piled on top of one another. They proceeded to hold out in relative comfort as the home nerves pulsated, even though Joachim Löw also flung on Timo Werner and Jamal Musiala in his attempt to hurl the kitchen sink. Leroy Sané, who had replaced Müller in the starting XI, toiled all night but contributed little bar a comical deliberate handball that stopped a Hungary break. It was desperate, shapeless stuff but then Goretzka, who had replaced the off-colour Ilkay Gündogan, struck with feeling and the visitors’ efforts were reduced to nought.

By the end, an extraordinary episode before kick-off felt aeons old. Uefa may have hidden behind weasel words about politics before this game, rather than facing up to a timely show of support for the LGBT+ community, but there were plenty of rainbow flags on view among the crowd even if the stadium’s facade was not allowed to match them. Then, as the Hungarian national anthem played, there was one more: a spectator ran across the pitch and had just enough time to hold the banner aloft in front of the visiting players before security personnel intervened. It was a striking scene; the biggest worry for Germany may be that their team offered precious few shots of colour after that.