BUDAPEST: France needed a second-half equaliser from Antoine Griezmann to avoid the biggest upset of the tournament as the world champions missed the chance to clinch a place in the Euro 2020 last 16.
Hungary, playing in front of a raucous crowd yet again at the Puskas Arena, held Didier Deschamps’ side to a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
Griezmann scored in the 66th minute to dampen the spirit of the crowd, which gave Hungary unwavering support throughout the Group ‘F’ match.
The 67,215-capacity Puskas Arena in Budapest is the only stadium at Euro 2020 to allow full crowds. They went wild when Attila Fiola gave the home team the lead.
Latching onto the ball after Roland Sallai won a header down the left flank, Fiola burst into the penalty area and held off defender Raphael Varane before clipping the ball into the bottom corner.
Some flares were lit and Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi had to remove paper thrown from the stands which landed in his penalty area.
Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema both missed good chances before Hungary’s goal.
But Griezmann, the Golden Boot winner at Euro 2016, equalised as an unconvincing France avoided a first competitive defeat since June 2019.
Greizmann finished with a powerful shot but at the end of an uncharacteristic move from the French, who for all their midfield guile and panache needed a Route One kick upfield from their goalkeeper to fashion their equaliser.
Given the quality of their opponents, Hungary’s draw was more like a victory and Gulacsi pumped his fists as the crowd gave the players a massive ovation.
The Hungarian players then lined up in front of their home fans behind one goal and stood with their hands on their hearts as the crowd sang.
France move onto four points while Hungary kept up their slim hopes, on one point, in a group where they had been given little chance with heavyweights Germany and Portugal also in the mix.
Hungary next face Germany in Munich on Wednesday while Portugal and France play in Budapest at the same time.
On Friday, lacklustre England were denied an early ticket into the last 16 as Scotland held their historic rivals to a goalless draw while World Cup finalists Croatia face an uphill task to progress.
England took on Scotland at Wembley for the 100th time in a competitive fixture but for just the second time at a major tournament, 25 years after they met at Euro 96.
Despite having just 2,500 tickets in the crowd of 22,500 limited by coronavirus restrictions, Scottish fans made their presence felt in a sizzling atmosphere in the pouring rain in London.
England, who beat Croatia 1-0 in their opening match of the tournament, knew victory against their fierce foes would seal their progress with a match to spare.
But Scotland dug deep and gave Gareth Southgate’s side some scares as they sealed a deserved draw.
England defender John Stones hit the post with a header in the 11th minute, and Scotland forward Lyndon Dykes had a shot cleared off the line by Reece James in the 63rd.
For England, qualification for the round of 16 isn’t in serious jeopardy with the top two teams from each of the six groups guaranteed of advancing, along with the four best third-place teams.
England have four points in Group ‘D’, the same as the Czech Republic. The Czechs will be the next visitors to Wembley on Tuesday, while Scotland will face Croatia.
Earlier, Croatia picked up their first point with a 1-1 draw against the Czech Republic in Glasgow.
Czech striker Patrik Schick’s 37th-minute penalty gave him the early lead in the race for the Golden Boot with his third goal of the tournament, but Ivan Perisic’s excellent 47th-minute strike earned Croatia a draw.
However, the 2018 World Cup runners-up will have to beat Scotland and hope other results go their way if they are to reach the knockout rounds.
Schick was awarded the penalty after being elbowed in the face by Croatia defender Dejan Lovren while both challenged for the ball in the air. The referee awarded the spot kick after a video review and gave a yellow card to Lovren.
Perisic then made sure to keep Croatia alive at the tournament. Andrej Kramari won the ball in midfield and released Perisic, who skipped past right back Vladimr Coufal and volleyed past Czech Republic goalkeeper Tom Vaclik.
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2021