After the highs and lows of England’s memorable Euro 2020 campaign, the journey starts all over again for Gareth Southgate’s side as they resume their World Cup qualifying campaign against Hungary on Thursday.
The road to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar resumes as England prepare for their first international matches since their memorable Euro 2020 run ended with a heartbreaking shootout defeat to Italy.
England, who currently top their qualification group, travel to Budapest to face Hungary at the Puskas Arena on Thursday before playing Andorra at Wembley on Sunday and Poland in Warsaw on Wednesday in what is a busy schedule for Southgate to contend with.
It could mean chances for plenty of the 25-man squad as the returning Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jesse Lingard and the uncapped Patrick Bamford try to impress with the World Cup just around the corner.
England made a perfect start to their World Cup qualifying with three wins from their opening three matches.
A big 5-0 win over minnows San Marino was followed by a 2-0 victory in Albania before Southgate’s team secured a 2-1 victory over Poland at Wembley saw them finish the first round of matches in top spot.
Now, with away games against Hungary and Poland – who are arguably the two strongest sides in the group – sandwiching a home clash with Andorra, England have a great opportunity to solidify their place at the top of the Group I standings come next week.
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying – Group I
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Hungary vs England: Team news…
RB Leipzig midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai returns for Hungary after being forced to miss Euro 2020 through injury.
He could go straight into the starting line-up in the absence of Adam Nagy, who is suspended for the visit of England.
Meanwhile, David Siger and Filip Helander, who were both in that Euro 2020 squad, miss out, while two uncapped players in Mark Tamas and Daniel Salloi are called up by Marco Rossi.
Finally, the hosts have defensive issues because of the absences of Loic Nego (Covid-19) and Gergo Lovrencsics (ankle).
For England, Jadon Sancho is the only concern for Southgate as he revealed at his pre-match press conference on Wednesday the winger had picked up a knock in training.
Meanwhile, forward Dominic Calvert-Lewin withdrew from the England squad due to injury earlier in the week.
Southgate has not called up any additional cover, even though he now has just two recognised strikers left in the squad – captain Harry Kane and Patrick Bamford. It raises the prospect of Leeds forward Bamford making his England debut after receiving his first call-up.
Hungary a tough test for England
Hungary may have failed to get out of the group at Euro 2020, but they did not go down without a fight.
After a 3-0 defeat in their opening game against Portugal, they fought back with two creditable draws against France and Germany, but in the end, it was not enough to reach the knockout rounds.
Marco Rossi’s side’s defeat to Portugal was their only loss in 14 matches across all tournaments,
They are two points behind Group I leaders England after winning two and drawing one of their opening three games, and with three clean sheets in their last four homes matches, England face a tough task in front 60,000 fans at the Puskas Arena.
They took points from Poland in March; they took a point off France in the summer and also off of Germany. Their recent results speak for themselves.
‘We have to start again; Hungary game pivotal’
Southgate believes England’s game in Hungary on Thursday could be “pivotal” to their World Cup qualifying chances.
“I think the two away games this week are both going to be hugely challenging,” the England boss said. “They are good teams. They are obviously pivotal games in terms of qualification.
“You cannot predict what your hardest games are going to be, but we know that Hungary are a very good side and sit second in the group.”
Southgate added: “The team has gained confidence from what they achieved and the progress they’ve
made, not only this summer, but over the last four years.
“But equally we have to start again. The journey to having the chance of another run like that in a tournament is under way. We have got to be at our very best. Mentally it’s a good test for us. Away from home, 60,000 fans and a very good team we’re playing against.”
Southgate refused to confirm whether his side would walk off the pitch in Budapest if Hungary’s fans racially abused England players in Thursday’s World Cup Qualifier.
Hungary have been ordered to play their next three UEFA competition matches behind closed doors – with one of those games suspended for two years – following racist abuse from supporters and homophobic banners in the stands during their Euro 2020 group stage matches in Budapest. But a full-capacity crowd of more than 60,000 will be present at the Puskas Arena for Thursday’s match against England as the game is being played under FIFA jurisdiction. In October 2019, England decided to play on in Sofia after Bulgarian fans racially abused Southgate’s players in a Euro 2020 qualifier.
Asked whether the team would walk off if they faced racial abuse on Thursday, Southgate said: “I don’t think we should speak hypothetically.
“We know the experience we had before [in Bulgaria] but we’re going into Hungary preparing for a game against a crowd that will get behind their team.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge of the match and everything else is speculation really.”
It’s a difficult game against Hungary, who have won two and drawn one so far in World Cup qualifying. They are unbeaten and so it’s a test on and off the pitch for England in Budapest on Thursday.
Kalvin Phillips believes the support for England players taking a knee is moving in the right direction and confirmed the team will continue to do so ahead of the game against Hungary in Budapest.
England players were adamant they would continue to take a knee before kick-off in a stance against racism and discrimination during a summer which saw the gesture jeered by their own fans en route to the Euro 2020 final. The boos were gradually taken over by cheers as attendances increased and Leeds midfielder Phillips feels that shows the players were right to stick to their guns.
“It’s hard to say we’re starting to win but we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “The boos at Middlesbrough were disappointing and heartbreaking for us but as time went on, the more vocal we were that we were going to take the knee and support what we believe in…I think a lot of fans understood that and they did switch the other way and carried on cheering for us.
“I obviously know about the situation [in Hungary] and how it’s been over there but it’s not happened yet, so I can’t really say anything on that. I just know that us, as a group know, we’ll carry on taking the knee because it’s important for us, important for our country and to fight racial abuse.”
Rossi: Hungary would defend England players
Hungary coach Rossi vowed to defend England’s players if they are racially abused.
England players, including Tyrone Mings on his debut, were abused in Bulgaria in 2019 and Rossi insisted the visitors’ squad would be supported by their hosts if there are any racial slurs from the stands.
“I hope that we cannot face this kind of situation. What we can say is always in the past we have showed deep respect for everybody,” he said.
“I am not afraid or worried about the fact someone could have this kind of behaviour, racist behaviour, in front of the English players. I hope this does not happen.
“In case it does, we are absolutely on the side of the English players, of course.”
Opta stats: Can England continue their momentum?
- England are unbeaten in their last 13 matches against Hungary (W11 D2) since losing four games in a row against the Hungarians between 1953 and 1962 by an aggregate score of 17-5.
- Hungary and England haven’t met since August 2010 in a friendly, with the Three Lions winning 2-1 with Steven Gerrard scoring a brace after Phil Jagielka gave Hungary the lead with an own goal.
- In World Cup qualifying, England and Hungary faced ahead of the 1982 World Cup – England won both games: 3-1 in Budapest with goals from Trevor Brooking (x2) and Kevin Keegan and 1-0 at Wembley with Paul Mariner netting the winner.
- Hungary have won their last two World Cup qualifying matches, beating San Marino and Andorra. They haven’t won three in a row since April 2009, when they won four in a row.
- England have only lost one of their last 50 matches in qualifying for the EUROs/World Cup (W40 D9), losing to the Czech Republic in October 2019. The Three Lions haven’t lost any of their last 24 World Cup qualifiers (W18 D6) since a 1-0 away defeat to Ukraine in October 2009.
- England striker Harry Kane has been involved in 30 goals in 21 appearances in World Cup/EUROs qualifying matches (22 goals, 8 assists), scoring in each of his last 12 such matches. Only Wayne Rooney has scored more goals for the Three Lions in qualifiers (30 goals).
- Hungary’s Ádám Szalai has been directly involved in eight goals in his last eight starts in World Cup qualifying (7 goals, 1 assist).
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