Jarrod Bowen’s debut pride as Gareth Southgate blames heat for England’s shock loss to Hungary
The Three Lions’ Nations League campaign got off to a bad start in Budapest, where children at the half-full Puskas Arena celebrated Dominik Szoboszlai’s penalty in a famous 1-0 triumph.
Hungary’s first win against England in 60 years was deserved, considering the pattern of play and contrasting performances on an evening when Bowen provided the visitors’ best attacking outlet.
The 25-year-old, who scored 18 goals in all competitions and provided 13 more for the Hammers over the last season, had an encouraging debut and admitted in the Puskas Arena’s interview area afterwards: “I felt comfortable.
“Of course it’s different to what I’m used to playing. I’ve never played international football before.
“It was about doing what I’ve been doing this season. Not changing my approach to the game, not changing the way I play, exactly how I’ve been playing all season and just doing it on it a bigger stage, really.
“Of course it was special playing for your country. It’s just a bit disappointing with the result in terms of mixed emotions with making my debut but losing the game.
“But of course first and foremost making my debut for my country...I’m delighted.”
Bowen will surely add to his first cap as England’s frantic Nations League schedule continues this month.
The Three Lions are now in Munich ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Germany, before taking on Italy and Hungary at Molineux.
“This is a group of winners not used to losing many games, so of course it’s disappointing, especially as it’s the first game of the group where we wanted to start strong,” said Bowen after the Group A3 opener.
“I think the beauty about this competition is there’s a lot of games coming up in a short space of time, so not time to dwell on the result and to turn our focus to the next games we’ve got because there’s still a lot of football to be played.”
Bowen played with purpose and intent on a humid night in the Hungarian capital, fighting through the nerves that struck as soon as he found out he was starting on Friday.
“He (Southgate) put my name up on a board and I kind of felt sick straightaway to see my name up there,” he revealed. “But I was excited, as well as nervous.
“I think it’s good because it’s something I’ve wanted to do forever so it’s good to be nervous and I kind of used those nerves when I got out there.
“It helped me settle in, have a few touches of the ball and then just continue what I’ve been doing for West Ham, I think.”
Nine months ago racism marred the Three Lions’ 4-0 World Cup qualification win at the Puskas Arena, which was half full on Saturday despite the hosts serving a UEFA punishment for discriminatory behaviour at Euro 2020.
There were around 35,000 in attendance for a match that was supposedly being played behind closed doors as Hungary made the most out of regulations that allowed children to attend in such circumstances.
The composition of the crowd made the pre-match jeering when England took the knee all the more jarring in Budapest, where the Magyars went on to secure a shock, albeit deserved, 1-0 win in the Group A3 opener.
Hungary last beat England in 1962 and it was Dominik Szoboszlai who wrote his name into the history books, firing a well-struck penalty beyond Jordan Pickford in the second half.
The decision to award the spot-kick for recently-introduced substitute Reece James’ challenge on Zsolt Nagy looked harsh, but England could hardly argue with the result given how they toiled throughout.
England 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.
“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 is. Quite a few of those players are coming not from an ideal preparation.”
Hungary: Gulacsi, Lang, Orban, Attila Szalai, Nego, Adam Nagy (Styles 82), Schafer, Zsolt Nagy (Vecsei 88), Sallai (Kleinheisler 71), Szoboszlai (Fiola 82), Adam Szalai (Adam 88).Unused substitutes: Szappanos, Spandler, Kecskes, Dibusz, Bolla, Vancsa, Salloi.
England: Pickford, Walker (Stones 62), Coady (Phillips 79), Maguire, Alexander-Arnold (James 62), Bellingham, Rice, Justin (Saka 46), Bowen, Kane, Mount (Grealish 62). Unused subtitutes: Abraham, Ramsdale, Gallagher, Sterling, Trippier, Pope, Ward-Prowse.
Referee: A Soraes Dias (Portugal).