A stirring second-half comeback from 3-0 down will give Hungary’s men plenty of encouragement as they look ahead to a busy winter schedule, but ultimately it was Russia who won this second Nations League fixture of the new campaign 3-2 in the Puskás Aréna on Sunday evening.
An even first quarter of an hour ended with Russia’s first goal from Anton Miranchuk and Stanislav Cherchesov’s side doubled their advantage through captain Magomed just after the half-hour mark. Mário Fernandes made it 3-0 to Russia in the first minute of the second half but the outstanding Roland Sallai and substitute Nemanja Nikolic hauled Hungary to within a goal of a sensational draw before time ran out.
Hungary coach Marco Rossi had decided to make just one change from the side which defeated Turkey 1-0 in Sivas on Thursday, Barnabás Bese coming in for Attila Fiola on the right of a three-man defence as the team lined up in a 3-5-1-1 formation, lone striker Ádám Szalai again captaining the side.
The first opening of the match fell Hungary’s way in the third minute, Szoboszlai’s whipped free-kick from near the left byline after Sallai had been brought down being indvertently flicked on by a Russia defender but it just flew wide of the far right post. Two minutes later though, the hosts were fortunate not to fall behind, last man Ádám Lang being wrong-footed by a flick-on from a long clearance, a mistake which sent Miranchuk in on goal, but the Lokomotiv Moscow attacker could only drill his shot just wide of Gulácsi’s left post.
Roland Sallai had looked lively for Hungary early on and it was he who latched on to Szoboszlai’s defence-splitting pass – played accurately with the outside of his right foot – in the 12th minute, but his controlling touch was not enough to take it away from Russia goalkeeper Shunin. The away team were unperturbed and followed up their earlier warning with the opening goal in the 15th minute, Kuzyaev’s sliding pass into the box finding the arriving Miranchuk whose precise, guided finish with his right instep skidded past Gulácsi’s outstretched left hand and into the net.
Hungary certainly weren’t looking freeflowing in attack but they did fashion a couple of opportunities to level the scores, Sallai’s goalbound volley bouncing off the unlucky Szalai and wide of the Russia goal in the 22nd minute and Barnabás Bese’s powerful downward header from Sallai’s right-wing cross finding a well-positioned Shunin near his left post. The visitors extended their lead in the 33rd minute though when Semenov toe-poked the ball away from Szalai inside his own penalty area and perfectly set up Russia captain Ozdoev for a delight curling effort which found the bottom-left corner of the Hungary net.
Rossi opted to bring on the more attack-minded László Kalmár at half-time in place of Dávid Sigér – now banned for the next Nations’ League fixture after a first-half yellow card – as his charges sought a way back into the match, but any optimism was punctured 44 seconds after the restart when Miranchuk slipped the ball in for Kuzyaev who advanced dow the left channel and pulled it back from the byline to Ozdoev, who then laid the ball off for Mário Fernandes to sidefoot it into the left side of the goal from 13 metres.
Hungary were confronted with the dilemma of whether to drop back against a potent Russian forward line who could inflict a real hammering on them, or to keep trying to somehow change the momentum of the game by playing higher up the pitch. They opted for the latter and soon a tiring away defence was starting to look vulnerable against Hungary’s pacy and youthful attack. In the 51st minute, Szoboszlai nicked the ball away from Ozdoev and fed Sallai, who broke forward and then returned the ball to the RB Salzburg playmaker as he burst into the box, but his left-footed shot from an ever-tightening angle slid easily into the keeper’s hands.
Five minutes later, Zobnin’s thunderbolt from 20 metres served another warning when it rocketed just past Gulácsi’s right post, but just after the hour mark, Kalmár’s superb, lofted through ball sent Sallai in on goal and he applied the perfect, lobbed finish to get the hosts on the scoresheet. Eight minutes later, the deficit was down to just one after Szoboszlai’s left-wing cross was headed across goal where substitute Nemanja Nikolic, on for Ádám Szalai, crashed the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
Despite plenty of pressing from Hungary as they attempted to camp in Russia’s half, and an international debut for Tamás Cseri who came on with eight minutes remaining, the home team wasn’t able to create any more clear chances and thus an equaliser evaded Rossi’s side. Ultimately, the hosts outplayed for 46 minutes but then displayed some admirable heart and belated verve and clinicism in attack, something which they will surely gain confidence from as they look ahead to October 8th’s crucial UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying play-off semi-final away against Bulgaria in Sofia.
Hungary 2-3 Russia (HT: 0-2)
Goalscorers: Sallai (62), Nikolic (70); RUS: Miranchuk (15), Ozdoev (33), Mário Fernandes (46).
Hungary: Gulácsi (GK), Lang, Attila Szalai, Orban, Nagy, Ádám Szalai (c) (Nikolic, 67), Szoboszlai (Cseri 82), Holender, Sigér (Kalmár 46), Sallai, Bese, Shunin (GK).
Russia: Shunin (GK), Mário Fernandes, Semenov, Ozdoev, Zobnin, Kudryashov, Dzhikiya, Ionov (Karavaev 75), Anton Miranchuk (Gazinski 67), Dzyuba (c), Kuzyaev (Zhirkov 57).