Having come so close yet so far at Euro 2020, the England squad reunite for September’s World Cup 2022 Qualifying clashes, starting with Thursday’s trip to the Puskas Arena to take on Hungary.
The Three Lions have taken maximum points from their opening three games in qualification Group I, while Hungary sit second in the group with two wins and a draw so far.
For a team that was expected to be blown away by the superiority of France, Germany and Portugal in the Euro 2020 group of death, Hungary held their own and won the hearts of the neutrals before bowing out with their heads held high.
Marco Rossi’s side seemed destined for a demoralising summer after being sunk 3-0 by Portugal in their first game of the tournament, but they managed to take two points from clashes with 2018 World Cup winners France and 2014 champions Germany before ultimately finishing fourth – as expected – in the group.
The resilient nature of Rossi’s side was there for all to see before Euro 2020 kicked off, as the world’s 37th-ranked nation embarked on an 11-game unbeaten run across all competitions ahead of their defeat to Portugal, including three eye-catching results in World Cup qualification.
After being forced to settle for a 3-3 draw with Poland courtesy of Robert Lewandowski’s late equaliser, Hungary proceeded to sink San Marino 3-0 before an equally dominant 4-1 success over Andorra – results which see them occupy second spot in the group with the highest goals tally so far (10).
Defeat to Portugal on the opening matchday of Euro 2020 represents Hungary’s only loss in 14 matches across all tournaments, and with three clean sheets to boast from their last four home matches, England have their work cut out to prove that their rearguard is the most unyielding.
The appalling incidences of post-match online abuse may have overshadowed England’s extraordinary run to the Euro 2020 final, but those on the field gave the Wembley faithful the opportunity to dream of a first international trophy since 1966.
Having overcome Germany, Ukraine and Denmark en route to the showpiece event, England were unable to build on Luke Shaw’s opener as Leonardo Bonucci tapped home after a goalmouth scramble, and penalty misses from Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho saw hearts and hopes shattered.
However, the much-admired Gareth Southgate now has a World Cup semi-final and a European Championship runners-up medal on his CV, and if the theme of going one better is to continue in 2022, preparations for an unparalleled trophy parade must start now.
Of course, it would be folly to dream of success in Qatar right now, but Southgate’s side have secured three wins from three over San Marino, Albania and Poland in qualification Group I, scoring nine goals and conceding just one in that time.
Defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final ended a 12-game unbeaten run across all competitions for the Three Lions – who kept a staggering 10 clean sheets during that run – and three points in Budapest is no less than the England faithful will demand before supporters return to Wembley for Sunday’s clash with Andorra.
Hungary World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
Hungary form (all competitions):
England World Cup Qualifying – Europe form:
England form (all competitions):
We say: Hungary 1-2 England
Hungary proved throughout Euro 2020 that they are no pushovers, and the chance to leapfrog England at the top of the group means that Rossi’s men will be reluctant to shy away from goalscoring opportunities.
We would not put it past the hosts to make the net ripple on their own turf, but England’s added attacking quality should shine through during a narrow but crucial success.