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Gareth Southgate blames Hungary heat for England’s opening Nations League loss

Gareth Southgate’s (left) players were jeered for taking the knee before the match (Trenka Attila/PA)
Gareth Southgate’s (left) players were jeered for taking the knee before the match (Trenka Attila/PA)

Gareth Southgate cited the Hungary heat as the main reason behind a sluggish England performance which led to Nations League defeat in Budapest.

Dominik Szoboszlai’s second-half penalty secured a 1-0 win for the hosts as England’s players were jeered for taking the knee before a match which, despite being played behind closed doors, was watched by a crowd in excess of 30,000.

England, with debutant Jarrod Bowen the brightest of their attacking options, rarely threatened the Hungary goal and toiled for much of the contest with Southgate pointing to the weather as a contributing factor to a tepid display.

“I think we knew it was going to be a very difficult game,” he said.

“We’ve had difficult games with them, with Hungary, as other big nations have had. They’re very difficult to break down.

“We probably lacked a half-yard I would say, in terms of our real incisiveness. I think that was more the heat than the length of the season.

“The other factor is, we haven’t played together for three months and we have had three games in six months.”

Southgate suggested he may have incorrectly balanced picking a team to win with experimenting ahead of the World Cup later this year, as Leicester full-back James Justin also made his senior debut.

Jarrod Bowen (centre) heads the ball
Jarrod Bowen (centre) rarely threatened the Hungary goal and toiled for much of the contest (Nick Potts/PA)

“Across these four games, we are trying to balance having a look at things, finding out about players and trying to win,” he said.

“Maybe I didn’t quite get the balance of that right today but we’ve learned a lot from it and I have to accept you are not going to win matches and you’ve got to ride the criticism that comes from it with the learning that should help us further down the line.

“We are disappointed because if we’re going to be a team that gets to the final stages of a World Cup, these are the types of games that we have to win.

“We have a pretty good idea of what our strongest team probably is. Quite a few of those players are coming not from an ideal preparation.”

The deciding moment in the game came after Reece James, only on the pitch for a couple of minutes after replacing Trent Alexander-Arnold, was deemed to have fouled Zsolt Nagy.

Dominik Szoboszlai (left) in action for Hungary
Dominik Szoboszlai (left) scored the only goal of the game in Hungary (Nick Potts/PA)

Szoboszlai made no mistake from the penalty spot, although Southgate was not happy with the award.

“The game, on the balance of play, it is a draw. It (the penalty) is a harsh decision,” he added.

“But I knew when it was given it wouldn’t be overturned. But we didn’t create enough clear chances to win the game.

“I don’t want to sit and criticise referees because I don’t think that is a route we should be going, it doesn’t gain anything and when you’ve lost, it sounds sour. The evidence is there for everyone to see the challenge.”

While the bottom two tiers of the Puskas Arena were largely full – UEFA regulations allowing school children under the age of 14 to attend behind closed doors games free of charge – Hungary boss Marco Rossi did not feel that was the reason behind their Group A3 win.

“I don’t know if it was an advantage,” he said.

“I don’t think we really got an advantage off this. All in all I am really happy these kids had a wonderful treat to take away tonight. We are really happy to give them this win tonight.”