What a white knuckle ride this was and how fortunate, in the end, Germany can consider themselves to have reached the last 16. They will play England at Wembley on Tuesday and it may either gratify or worry Gareth Southgate that another display like this would render their chances extremely slim. Surely they can only improve on a night’s work
When Andras Schafer headed them back ahead a minute after Kai Havertz cancelled out Adam Szalai’s opener, they looked bound to send the home side packing. But Leon Goretzka’s equaliser transformed the picture and staved off the ignominy of repeating Germany’s group stage exit of Russia 2018.
This game was given further edge by the considerations that had dominated its buildup. Uefa may have hidden behind weasel words about politics rather than facing up to a timely show of support for the LGBTQ+ community, but there were plenty of rainbow flags on view among the crowd even if the stadium’s facade was not allowed to match them. Then, as the Hungarian national anthem played, there was one more: a spectator ran across the pitch and had just enough time to hold the banner aloft in front of the visiting players before security personnel intervened.
The thunderstorm that raged above Munich for two hours before kick-off had, for the moment at least, largely died down. But anybody fearing what it might portend for Germany quickly saw their concerns realised: Joachim Löw’s team came out of the blocks quickly, as they had against Portugal, but found their night complicated immeasurably in the 11th minute.
Hungary had been fortunate early on that their goalkeeper, Peter Gulacsi, made a firm one-handed save from Joshua Kimmich’s angled strike. Given only a win would serve their purpose, they would have to offer a threat of their own and found a potent one from their second attack.
Germany should have stopped the goal at source but Toni Kroos offered no opposition to Roland Sallai’s deep cross from the right; the delivery was perfect when it came and Szalai, the hulking centre-forward who had been an injury doubt for this game, flung himself at the ball before crashing an exhilarating header past Manuel Neuer.
The largely black-clad pocket of away supporters behind Neuer’s goal went berserk; the brittleness that lurks not too far beneath much of Germany’s work had resurfaced and, just like that, they were now bottom of Group F. In another analogue of their victory over the Portuguese, they initially appeared undeterred. Havertz almost created an equaliser for Serge Gnabry before Mats Hummels, who had let Szalai run off him for the goal, headed a Kimmich corner against the bar.
Matthias Ginter jabbed at Gulacsi but then Germany’s threat faded. The conductor’s role played by Thomas Müller, whose knee injury meant a place on the bench, became intensely conspicuous by its absence and attacks became as likely to end with Neuer as they were to occupy Gulacsi. As half-time approached the rain and wind assumed biblical levels once again. Hungary maintained a counterattacking threat through the impressive Sallai and Germany’s hopes were in severe danger of being washed away.
Löw shifted Kimmich into central midfield for the second half, judging his influence to be more critical there than at right wing-back. It made little initial difference and within minutes Müller was warming up pointedly. His involvement here was surely a last resort but it had become glaringly obvious that Germany did not have the option of being choosy.
Havertz briefly glimpsed goal but his touch was heavy and Willi Orban intervened. Germany’s increasing desperation was summed up when Leroy Sané, enduring an unhappy night as Müller’s replacement, took a yellow card for scooping the ball away with his hand as Fiola broke towards the box. From the free-kick, Sallai attempted to outfox Neuer and rapped the outside of the near post.
What occurred next was simply extraordinary. With Muller waiting on the side to effect his rescue act, Havertz appeared to have saved him the bother after a horrendous error from Gulacsi, who missed his punch from a Kroos free-kick. Hummels was able to loop a header towards goal and Havertz, two yards out, nodded in.
On came Müller anyway, and within seconds he stood open-mouthed. Hungary attacked from the restart and Szalai dinked a smart ball through to the rampaging Schafer. An ill-judged dash from goal was by Neuer was punished by the midfielder, who got there first and headed into the vacant net.
Hungary’s players piled on top of one another. Events in Budapest, of all places, now meant Germany could rely on nobody but themselves. They looked out of inspiration but then Goretzka, another substitute, drilled in to ensure they did it the hard way.