Ah, the joys of international football. Hungary was using this game, as Macedonia did for their Ireland game, as preparation for their next World Cup qualifier (against, I believe, Switzerland). This game also marked the birthday of Ferenc Puskas who was part of the legendary Hungarian team of the 50's and, incidentally, coached South Melbourne for a while. In one of the tackier gestures Ferenc got to kick off the ball before the real start of the game. Still it seemed to go down well with the crowd.
Australia for their part were still getting the once over from the coach insofar as fine tuning his side in preparation for the World Cup campaign. After 4 wins from 4 starts things seemed to be going swimmingly and most notable in this game was the far greater cohesion, especially in the 2nd half, that Australia had. At least in comparison to the Macedonia match.
Well the kickoff was barely 5 seconds old before Ned Zelic was fouled, it was to become the first of many fouls on Ned which is more a reflection on how he has regained some of his elegantly smooth skills rather than any maliciousness on the part of the hosts.
Australia was first to test the defence of the opponent when the Hungarians were disposessed and Graham Arnold fed a ball to Aurelio who ran onto goal. The play was pulled up for offside however the replays made it quite clear that there was no offside. Still Vidmars shot was hardly troublesome and the goalkeeper had the narrow angle fairly well covered, apparently it was only the second cap for Babos in goal. Overall I think he performed well with only the Muscat goal being something of a question for his selection. It was just after this call that Babos changed his top from a mainly yellow one to a red, black and yellow one. Australia of course wear yellow and I wonder why this wasn't sorted out before the match....and who actually initiated the change. The oddities of football.
A Zelic run forward again eluded defenders and when Arnold rolled the ball back to Slater it was noticeable that the 3 others in attacking positions pulled away to the far post in anticipation of the cross. This was apparent in other stages of the match as well and would indicate that Venables feels the Hungarians were vulnerable to crosses. He could hardly have been expecting to be proven right inside 5 minutes. Still the cross came from Slater and was met perfectly beyond the far post by Aurelio Vidmar who had just managed to drift a yard or so back from his marker. He headed the ball down and back across goal which left Babos very little hope of stopping the shot which was not only firm but accurate. 1-0 to the visitors and the Stadium was shocked into silence.
I would also note that while Viduka was generally quiet on the night, as he was against Macedonia, he was ready for any parries of the shot and follow them in for a tap in. This was also the case in the last minute goal by Vidmar in that last game against Macedonia.
A free kick a few minutes later was taken by Slater in almost the same position from which he delivered the penultimate touch of the opening goal and again Vidmar headed goalwards from the far post position. However this time the ball looped up harmlessly but still Hungary had failed to make any notable inroads into Australias defence though once or twice Australia were forced to hurriedly boot the ball rather than thread an incisive pass forward.
Australia still have problems with corners and free kicks, none of them appeared to be terribly dangerous. Australia's first corner of the game about 10 minutes in was headed away by a defender who not only didn't have to jump but actually stooped slightly. Lazaridis managed to followup with a run and shot, albeit weakly, at goal so the "second phase" play after a corner is creditable. Most of the corners were aimed at the far post towards Popovic and Horvat.
Hungary did finally manage a shot on goal, though it missed narrowly. From a throw in near the corner Klausz booted the ball over his shoulder and was controlled first time by Balog and then his shot on the volley was narrowly wide of the near post. Filan may have been able to get to an on target shot but in the event he did not.
The Hungarians individually showed decent enough skills, Halmai with a good turn or Kuttor with a run down the flank but invariably the thing most likely to follow a good piece of play was either a really bad piece of play or an even better one from Australia. You did sense that the Hungarians were starting to overcome the early setback and began to find their feet in the game. Nothing illustrated this more accurately than Robbie Slater who had initially run riot down the left wing but was increasingly performing more defensive work. Graham Arnold too was often seen a little further back than you would expect to find him. Still there was plenty of movement for Australia when they did go forward...it was just happening less frequently.
Nevertheless John Filan, who was representing Australia for the first time since the 1992 Olympics, had very little to do in order to impress the coach and so contented himself by often distributing the ball with a throw to a defender rather than to launch the ball into orbit hoping it would make a re-entry very near the feet or head of a teammate near his counterpart.
Ned Zelic meanwhile was busy rebuilding his career after some debilitating knee injuries over the past few years had hampered him. His runs, distribution and vision all slowly peeking through as they had done while at Borussia Dortmund where he was overenthusiastically compared to Kaiser Franz. His threaded pass to Tony Vidmar left the latter with a shot on goal which Babos never got the chance to save because captain Banfi slid across the line of the shot for the loss of a corner, the less said about that corner the better.
Infact all this must have been going to the Australians heads when we saw more yellow shirts in the Hungarian area than red ones. Urban then managed to neatly get the ball off Lazaridis and then set off on a run towards halfway before laying the ball off to the captain. The latter proved himself worthy by continuing the sweeping length of the field movement with a pass to Klausz who was steaming down the middle with two chasing yellow shirts converging upon him, one of them belonging to Slater. None of this seemed to bother him and as he reached the penalty box he pulled the trigger and the ball found the side netting .... from the inside. John Filan tried to narrow the angle but that didn't help much. I suppose Mark Bosnich might have had mixed feelings looking on from the bench...:-)
The equaliser had an enormous effect on the confidence of the Hungarians, as you would expect, and Australia found themselves defending corners and making last gasp tackles and interceptions until halftime which was still 15 minutes away. Judging by the voices in the stands they didn't really want halftime to be quite so close. The half ended with a chance for Graham Arnold who was on the end of another superb Zelic pass and his first time shot was straight at the goalkeeper who had to swat the ball away for another woefully taken corner.
The second half saw Bela on for Urban and Muscat replacing Skoko, both new players getting invloved early no doubt wishing to please their respective coaches. However it was Hungarys shining light at the front Klausz who made Australia nervous again when he received and shielded the ball in the area and then managed to turn and shoot in one motion. The ball was wide of the target and Filan alert to the danger but it would not have taken much for Australia to suffer a confidence shattering goal to put them behind.
Zelic was now more or less deciding that he should run the show and made it clear with a run that virtually took him from one penalty box to the other and gathering speed as he went. Eventually he lost the ball but it was almost nostalgic for me, I recall a similar run for Dortmund against Juventus in a UEFA Cup final where Dortmund were already roasted but Zelic shone in the second leg. It was Zelic's ball forward which was kept in by Muscat who in turn gave Viduka room to move and cut the ball back across goal but Lazaridis was just too far forward to capitalise and Aurelio was a fraction too late to arrive. Though credit also to Nyilas for keeping tabs on Lazaridis and Halmai for clearing the danger before Vidmar spoilt the party.
I was still a bit worried about Muscat in the team, he left these shores with a reputation for being a hothead though this in turn meant referees probably dealt more harshly with him than was fair. When Muscat caught Nagy with an elbow in shielding play I was a little concerned he was still up to his old tricks but apart from this minor incident he was nothing short of solid.
After another joke free kick from Viduka Zelic this time sent Lazaridis to the byline and his efforts led to a miscued shot from Arnold coming to Kevin Muscat and with the goalie lying on the ground and the ball at his feet Muscat could do nothing but send the ball wide of goal. It was a tricky opportunity but one which could reasonably be expected to go in.
Australia still had some defending to do, Hungary's corners were more difficult to deal with but the height in the Australian defence was good enough to defuse the threat. As the half wore on the Hungarian coach looked to substitute his way to victory but this tactic backfired somewhat as the involved positional changes left open spaces for Australia, and Zelic in particular, to exploit. By this stage Australia were more or less running the show but despite their control failed to make an impression on the scoreboard. Infact in defending a free kick Australia almost contrived to send themselves 2-1 down by almost allowing Kuttor to slide in after a header away went astray, or more to the point didn't, as it bounced down in front of the goalmouth.
Small scares such as that aside, and in truth it is about the only one, Australia were busy being denied a winning goal.
Shortly after John Aloisi came on to replace Graham Arnold Tony Vidmar hit what was probably the only useful free kick of the day forcing the keeper to make a save low near the post from a stinging shot past (through?) the wall. Then Lazaridis and Viduka combined from a throw in to completely mesmerise the Hungarian defence at the edge of the area. Eventually Mark Viduka took the shot that just brushed the outside of the post but had the keeper well and truly beaten. The Hungarian captain Banfi seemed to be at fault for allowing Viduka the room by trying to help shutdown Lazaridis, Banfi's reaction after the shot seems to confirm my view.
Just when it seemed that all the effort would be for nothing along comes Aranyos with a dangerous play which affords an Australian free kick in midfield. Zelic sends it forward and the ball rolls off the midriff of an Australian player seemingly to be sent skyward by Banfi at the edge of the area. Only problem is that Banfi misses it and Aranyos is further from the ball than Muscat around the corner of the box. Muscat, thinking quickly, turns back towards goal and swings his right foot at the ball which travels into the top far corner of the goal beyond the despairing dive of Babos.
Australia lead 2-1 and the inability of Hungary to hold on for 90 minutes becomes almost legendary, apparently they make rather a habit of conceding late goals and snatching defeats from the jaws of victory.
This time they really snatch it as Australia scored a 3rd goal in the dying seconds. This time Slater and Muscat contriving to get past the tiring defenders and Muscat lifting the ball to the far post where Aurelio Vidmar is on hand to nod the ball in despite the attentions of Halmai. It is funny since not 30 seconds previously Muscat and Vidmar were in similar positions and Muscat tried to pass the ball along the ground and had it intercepted, infact that interception led to the throw in by Muscat to Slater. After that intercept Aurelio lifted his arms at Muscat not so much in frustration but in direction of what he should have done with the pass, ie. lifted it over the defenders heads. Nice to know Muscat can take orders from his captain.
While the replays were being shown the final whistle blew and Australia roll on in their winning ways, however they have no planned matches prior to the World Cup qualifiers in June. This performance is good enough to beat the likes of Tonga and Tahiti, though in truth those matches are likely to be played by home based players, but will all this be enough preparation to go all the way to France?