Raheem Sterling silences the racists as defiant England humble Hungary in Budapest
Sterling and Jude Bellingham were subjected to alleged racist abuse from Hungary supporters during England’s 4-0 win at the Puskas Arena
Sterling opened the scoring at the Puskas Arena (Photo: Reuters)
PUSKAS ARENA — England’s players knelt proudly and determinedly in the face of the hostile boos that reverberated around the Puskas Arena – then Raheem Sterling silenced all of them with the opening goal and yet another scintillating performance for the national team.
That his strike came in front of the end of the mightily impressive stadium desperately trying to contain the heaving Hungarian ultras made it that bit sweeter. That it was the spark to catalyse a thumping in the face of racism even more so.
Sterling, unsure where to turn in a stadium full of home supporters after scoring, sprinted into a corner, where he was pelted with plastic cups half-full of drinks, as were the rest of his team-mates when they joined him. That was only the start.
Declan Rice – who revealed he had never touched a pint of beer during Euro 2020 – pretended to take a cheeky swig, just to rub it in. Then Sterling proceeded to torment his tormentors.
A few minutes later, he went down under a challenge and thought he had won a penalty that was not given – that sent the ultras into a frenzy. Soon after that, he stuck a cross on Harry Kane’s head and England were two in front.
They were not finished there, driven on by a burning desire to punish their opponents, and just before 70 minutes arrived on the clock Harry Maguire headed in a Luke Shaw corner for three. As England’s players celebrated as one again, a smoking flair was launched at them. Kyle Walker spoke to the referee at length but the game recommenced.
Then reports emerged of monkey chants aimed at Sterling and Jude Bellingham, who was on the substitutes bench. And does anyone still wonder why England’s players keep taking the knee, keep sending out the message that they will not accept racism in football and beyond, in England and beyond? Let’s not forget they were booed by their own fans, too.
It was just as well Rice added a fourth as the game drew to a close. Four goals without reply in what before kick-off promised to be a testing World Cup qualifier.
Hungary’s right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban is on a drive to reinvigorate a once great national team, and it had been showing signs of working before England arrived in Budapest. In Euro 2020, Hungary led France at half-time before drawing, and twice led Germany before sharing a point apiece. They are not an easy nut to crack.
Indeed, they had not been beaten at home for almost a year and the Puskas Arena is quite clearly an unwelcoming place to visit. Especially when a country whose first home game after receiving a two-game stadium ban for their supporters’ discriminatory behaviour during the Euros is, in fact, three-quarters full with Hungarian supporters after England fans were banned from travelling due to Covid.
Blame Uefa and Fifa for not recognising the other’s sanctions in their own competitions. The governing bodies need more joined-up thinking on this. Something has to change.
Declan Rice pretends to drink a beer thrown from the stands (Photo: Reuters)
As widely predicted: England’s players taking the knee before kick-off was greeted with deafening boos and jeers around the entire stadium. Fair play to England’s players for standing up for their cause, facing down those who hate the gesture, knowing full well the reaction it would likely prompt. The ugly scenes that will unfortunately overshadow what was a fantastic second-half England performance show why it is so important.
They were booed for taking the knee by their own supporters from the warm-up games in Middlesbrough throughout the group stage, the boos only lessening as the crowds increased to drown them out.
From the England 11 who started the Euro 2020 final less than eight weeks ago only one change was made by Southgate: man-of-the-people Jack Grealish in for Kieran Trippier. Not at right-back, obviously, although the way fans clamoured for the floppy-haired forward to start during the summer, they would seemingly have been delighted if he had been shoe-horned in anywhere.
Grealish – to his credit – was every bit the £100million man and played a part in two England goals. The first combining with Mason Mount, who crossed low for Sterling to score. Then notching the assist for Rice’s long-range strike.
It should’ve been tough for Southgate to summon back the energy in this team after they exerted so much to reach within a penalty shootout of winning England’s first ever European Championship, only to miss the final three penalties.
And the first half had that tired feel to it, concluding with zero shots on target from either side, even if England had two-thirds of possession. That same tiredness was felt when Kane was dealt the first chance, through one-on-one but shooting straight at the Hungarian goalkeeper.
But then Sterling was there, leading the team through while everything raged around them.