Attila Fiola is going to feature prominently in every highlight reel ever produced about Euro 2021.
The Hungary wingback’s opener in Saturday’s dramatic 1-1 draw with world champions France is already destined to be remembered as one of the tournament’s golden moments. It just wasn’t in the script, and that’s what made it so beautiful.
What No. 37-ranked Hungary lacked in class, it made up for in perseverance, grit and determination – all of which combined earned the Hungarians a surprise point that keeps their qualification hopes alive going into the final game against Germany.
Make no mistake about it: the home side – and its fans – deserved the draw. In a world still social-distancing due to the pandemic, the full stadium in Budapest was truly an incredible sight to behold. It is unlikely you will hear a roar louder than the one which greeted Fiola’s great goal just before the break.
Nobody had expected Hungary to score, of course. France had won its last five games in all competitions without conceding once. Having kicked off its Euro campaign with an impressive 1-0 win over Germany, Les Bleus were expected to sweep their hosts aside with the minimum of fuss.
However, Hungary had already shown it is not just here to make up the numbers by frustrating Portugal for 84 minutes in their tournament opener. Coach Marco Rossi’s side were once again resilient and well-organized, though France forward Karim Benzema, who has never scored in a European Championship, should have given Les Bleus the lead after being brilliantly set up by Mbappe during the first half.
Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann were also constant threats, but Hungary dug deep, defended in numbers and did an excellent job of keeping the world champions at bay.
“We had some great opportunities in the first half,” France manager Didier Deschamps told TF1 postgame. “We had the chances to score, but we didn’t. It’s football. They hardly got anything, too.”
But Hungary put in a shift and the relentless work rate of the entire team, and the deafening roar inside the stadium, was what kept powering them on.
“It was a tough game in front of a home crowd,” Griezmann told beIN Sports. “We lost our way with the stadium full, we couldn’t get going. The pitch was dry and it was super hot. We couldn’t find each other or put the chances away that we had in the first half. And we paid for it. But there are great players everywhere and even against Hungary it’s tough.”
Fiola’s fine finish in first-half stoppage time was, certainly, just reward for Hungary’s heroics, but there was always that nagging feeling that France’s quality would eventually result in a goal.
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The post had already denied France substitute Ousmane Dembele an equaliser when Griezmann levelled matters from close range, after Hungary had failed to properly clear a cut-back from Mbappe. It was the Barcelona attacker’s seventh goal at the Euros – only Cristiano Ronaldo (11) and Michel Platini (9) have scored more in the competition’s history.
A strong hand from Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi denied Mbappe as the clock ticked towards 90, with the Hungarians putting their bodies on the line to try block every shot on goal.
France will be frustrated that, after 15 attempts, they couldn’t find a winner and Deschamps argued afterwards that his players had struggled with the heat.
“This is a point. This is obviously not what we hoped for, but given the context, we will take it anyway,” Deschamps said.
“Am I worried ? No. We have the group to react,” Griezmann said postgame. “We know we have the players to make a difference at any moment.”
All the talk will be about France failing to win, but Hungary did the nation proud, and as the Hungarian fans danced out of the exits at the Puskas Arena, a deafening chorus of Ria Ria Hungaria could still be heard within the arena.
The atmosphere is likely to prove as unforgettable as Fiola’s goal.