Marc-André ter Stegen twitched briefly, then let it go. The goalkeeper of the German national soccer team, representing the sick Manuel Neuer, immediately realized that he would not have a chance. The ball, perfectly extended by Adam Szalai with his heel, dropped over him in the direction of the second post into the goal.
It wasn’t just an extremely nice goal that the Hungarian captain Szalai scored after a little over fifteen minutes; it was also one that occupied the Germans more than they would have liked. Shortly before the break, the first whistles sounded in the Leipzig Arena, where the national team had played eight times and won eight times since the renovation.
Not only this series ended on Friday evening. The Germans ran after the deficit in vain, but in the end had to admit defeat to the Hungarians after the last two draws 0:1 (0:1). Hansi Flick conceded his first defeat in his 14th game as national coach – and at the worst possible moment.
The guests, on the other hand, celebrated their first win against the four-time world champions since 2004. While the Germans no longer have a chance of winning their group in the Nations League, Hungary can secure participation in the Final Four in the middle of next year against Italy on Monday.
The lead by the former Mainzer Szalai in his 85th and presumably penultimate international match also came in handy for the Hungarians. “I’ve rarely played against a team that defends so well and in such a disciplined manner,” said Germany midfielder Joshua Kimmich before the match. “We really have to come up with something to create chances.”
The idea was obvious to cover the Hungarians’ defensive line with vertical passes. In practice, however, it usually looked like the ball flew over friend and foe into no man’s land.
It was exactly two months to the day on Friday until the World Cup in Qatar begins for the team of national coach Hansi Flick with the group game against Japan. But the national team is still a long way from being in World Cup form, especially after the impressions from the first half in Leipzig. Against the defensively strong Defensive Hungary, the Germans came up with shockingly little.
“We didn’t happen at all in the first half,” said Joshua Kimmich. “We missed everything there.” Flick complained about lack of courage in his team’s game. “We weren’t active,” he complained, “played without confidence.”
The ball was played from left to right and back again around the Hungarian penalty area. Sometimes it was the other way around. Too little speed. Too little movement, too few ideas. At some point either Antonio Rüdiger or Niklas Süle tried a through ball to the top, which ended up either in goal or at Hungary’s goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
In the entire first half, the Germans managed a single halfway dangerous offensive action in front of almost 40,000 spectators in the officially sold-out arena, which was still not completely full. Substitute captain Thomas Müller headed the ball straight into Gulacsi’s arms after a cross from left-back David Raum, who was otherwise conspicuously unsteady. Almost 40 minutes had already been played.
The Hungarians, with four Bundesliga players in the starting XI, including Andras Schäfer from 1. FC Union, unsurprisingly switched to defending their goal – and yet, when they played forward, they seemed more determined and also more dangerous than the rather sluggish ones hosts.
The national coach reacted to the unsatisfactory performance of his team at half-time. Flick brought on Thilo Kehrer, a defender, for Serge Gnabry and let his team play in the last line with a back three to further advance the two full-backs Raum and Jonas Hofmann.
It became dangerous for the first time in the second half after a free kick when Rüdiger and Timo Werner narrowly missed Kimmich’s cross in the middle. Shortly thereafter, Leroy Sané, still one of the better German players, failed at Gulacsi from a tight angle. And the supposed equalizer by Thomas Müller, again just a minute later, rightly didn’t count because Jonas Hofmann, who provided the assist, was offside.
After all, there was now significantly more activity in front of and in the Hungarian penalty area, also because the Germans positioned themselves higher, attacked earlier and significantly increased the stress for the Hungarians. But the guests continued to prove to be quite resistant. They had to accept one or the other chance for the Germans, but not the equalizer.
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