Three first-half goals condemned Marco Rossi’s team to a comprehensive defeat against Croatia this evening, but Wales’ draw in Slovakia keeps Hungarian hopes of UEFA Euro2020 qualification alive ahead of Sunday’s crucial contest against Azerbaijan in the Groupama Aréna.
Tamás Kádár’s mistake let in Luka Modrić for a fifth-minute opener before Petković scored twice more inside a sobering first half from the visitors’ point of view. Later, László Kleinheisler conceded a 55th-minute penalty which Hungary goalkeeper Péter Gulácsi saved from Ivan Perišić and was then immediately sent off for a second yellow card as Croatia preserved their advantage and sealed the points.
The warning signs had been there for a much-changed Hungary – Rossi’s team were missing four players from March’s 2-1 win in the corresponding fixture in Budapest – from the outset, Modrić volleying over from a half-clearance and Perišić driving low into Gulácsi’s arms within the first four minutes.
Those warnings weren’t heeded though, Kádar dwelling too long before attempting to launch the ball in the fifth minute, a clearance which Modrić charged down and latched onto, running in on goal before slotting the ball low past a static Gulácsi’s left hand from nine metres.
Young midfielder Máté Vida saw his flicked near-post header from a corner blocked as Hungary sought to equalise but matters were only to get worse when Ante Rebić powered down the left wing in the 24th minute and crossed low to Petković, who cleverly allowed the ball to roll in front of his body with his back turned to goal before flicking the ball through his own legs and past Gulácsi with his slightly raised instep.
Two-nil was already an imposing challenge for the away side to recover from in Split but the three-goal deficit Hungary found themselves facing in the 42nd minute would prove to be a decisive and insurmountable obstacle, a relatively innocuous cross from Perišić on the Croatia right inexplicably missed by Kádár but not by Petković, who hooked the ball in rather unorthodox fashion past a scrambling Gulácsi and into the far left side of the goal.
Substitute Ádám Lang relieved Kádár of his central-defensive duties at half-time and for this reason and surely Marco Rossi’s teamtalk too, Hungary looked far more stable in the second period. There were still moments of concern though, not least when Kleinheisler upended Rebic just inside the penalty area in the 55th minute. but Gulácsi plunged impressively to his right to push Perišić’s spotkick around the post.
Kleinheisler was then shown his second yellow card of the match, presumably for dissent, and dismissed from the field of play.
Sallai had Hungary’s first shot on goal in the 68th minute, a deflected effort which Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Livaković saved high to his right, before making way for Ferencváros winger Roland Varga. The game was a much more even affair at this point, Croatia content to preserve their lead and a reassured Hungary searching for the salvation of pride, albeit with only ten men. Thereafter, Rebic came closest to opening Croatia’s second-half account in the later stages, driving the ball just wide of the far left post from a tight angle, while at the other end Orban headed Varga’s 35-metre free-kick from a central position just wide of Livaković’s left post. There were to be no further goals though, Croatia securing a straightforward 3-0 victory as they made it 17 home games unbeaten since 2013.
Elsewhere in the group, Slovakia could only draw 1-1 at home to Wales, which means Hungary’s neighbours to the north must surely take points off Croatia in the next match if they wish to hold on to second spot.
Hungary, meanwhile, know it’s likely that only two wins from their matches at home to Azerbaijan and away to Wales will be enough to give them a chance of qualification from this group. Croatia lead the standings with 13 points from six matches, three ahead of Slovakia and four clear of Hungary in third place. Wales are a further two points adrift in fourth.
Croatia 3-0 Hungary (HT: 3-0)
Goalscorers: Modrić (5), Petković (24, 42)
Red card: Kleinheisler (55)
CRO: Dominik Livaković; Tin Jedvaj, Dejan Lovren, Domagoj Vida, Borna Barišić; Luka Modrić (Mateo Kovačić 67), Marcelo Brozović; Ante Rebić, Ivan Rakitić (Nikola Vlašić 74), Ivan Perišić (Josip Brekalo 60); Bruno Petković.
HUN: Péter Gulácsi; Gergő Lovrencsics, Willi Orban, Tamás Kádár (Ádám Lang 46), Mihály Korhut; Balázs Dzsudzsák (Dominik Nagy 60), László Kleinheisler, Dávid Holman, Máté Vida, Roland Sallai (Roland Varga 76); Ádám Szalai.