Hungary are well placed to reach the finals of Euro 2016 after an efficient, rather fortunate 1-0 win at Norway Thursday in the first of the play-off first legs.
Debutant Laszlo Kleinheisler scored the only goal in the 26th minute with a left-foot drive that Norway keeper Oerjan Nyland failed to stop.
“It was incredible to score that goal,” the 21-year-old Kleinheisler said.
“To score such an important goal in my first match is astonishing, I really don’t know what to say ... Let’s hope that it turns out to be an important goal for us.”
Norway dominated from then on, enjoying 58 per cent possession, but distinctly lacked a cutting edge in attack, and relied excessively on high centres hit into the Hungarian penalty area.
The second leg will be played Sunday in Budapest. Hungary have not reached a major tournament since 1986.
The Hungarian players wore black armbands in honour of their former goalkeeper Marton Fulop, who died earlier Thursday from cancer aged just 32.
Norway set off like an express train but soon ran into a resolute Hungarian defence.
In the 26th minute, in their first real attack, Hungary scored what could turn out to be a vital away goal.
The promising Kleinheisler, making his full international debut, took a short pass from Akos Elek to the right of the Norwegian penalty area then cut inside and let fly with his left foot.
Nyland should have saved the shot. Instead he touched it feebly and it went into the corner of the net.
Nyland did better just before half-time when he kept out a shot from Balazs Dzsudzsak in what was Hungary’s second and final dangerous attack.
Norway continued to dominate but on the few occasions when they breached the solid visiting defence were kept at bay by colourful veteran keeper Gabor Kiraly, who was winning his 100th cap.
The closest that Norway came to equalising was two minutes from time, when substitute Paal Helland headed against the crossbar.
“We did not deserve to lose this match,” Helland said.
“We attacked from start to finish, whereas they just got their goal and sat back. But this sometimes happens in football ... We now have to go to Hungary and win, which is by no means impossible for us.”
The only bad news for Hungary was that Zoltan Gera, another experienced veteran, will miss the second leg through suspension after receiving a yellow card early on.
“It is annoying that I will have to miss such an important game, a match in which we might finally qualify for a big tournament,” Gera said.
“But I am confident that the boys can finish the job off without me ... It will not be easy, but I think they will be able to do it. The whole of Hungary will be behind them.”
Friday will see Bosnia-Herzegovina against Ireland; Saturday will see Ukraine against Slovenia and Sweden versus Denmark.
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