Australia have kept their U17 World Cup campaign breathing after staging a dogged fightback to draw 2-2 with Hungary.
Coming into the contest looking to make amends after being blunted against Ecuador in their opening fixture, a loss against the Europeans would have left the Joeys as the only side in Group B without three points ahead of the final match-day, almost certainly spelling doom for their progression chances.
Despite a bright start, the omens turned sour when an impeccably weighted free-kick into the penalty area by Akos Zuigeber, perfectly neutralising every Australian defender in the area, was blasted home off the head of Peter Barath in the 14th minute to open the scoring.
Five minutes later, VAR saw a handball by Jordan Courtney-Perkins and a subsequent sportkick from Zuigeber was blasted home.
Depressingly for the Joeys, the match appeared set to follow a similar trajectory to their 2-1 defeat at the hands of Ecuador two days prior where they dominated possession and field position but were too flat in front of goal.
However, with the universe perhaps, looking to correct itself; an inadvertent, another VAR adjudged handball from Gabor Buna gifted Noah Botic a penalty which he thundered home in the 69th minute to breathe new life into the Australians.
They were further invigorated when Caleb Watts ran onto a ball in behind the Hungarian defence and hammered home to make it 2-2 five minutes later.
Much as they did in the final stages against the South Americans, the shackles then appeared to come off the Joeys as they threw caution to the wind and pushed hard for a winner.
But despite chances, it wasn’t to be and both sides were forced to settle for a point.
The point keeps the Joeys quest to qualify for the Round of 16 alive for another game, be it in second-place or as one of four of the best third-placed.
Yet, with a game against a powerhouse Nigerian side that is two-from-two to begin their campaign awaiting them, the challenge that awaits the Joeys will be how they can produce the kind of incisive, dashing and brave football that they have turned out in the final stages of both the Ecuador and Hungary fixtures.
Having started their opening game of the campaign in poor fashion – going down 2-0 to Ecuador within 10 minutes – but finishing with the wind at their backs, eyes were on Australia’s U17 side to see which Joeys’ group would emerge from the tunnel.
Encouragingly for Morgan’s side, early signs were positive but for all their early domination of tempo and possession, the overarching themes from the opening game began to rear their heads again against the Junior Magyars as play broke down in the final third.
Harshly, but in a somewhat perverse way also fittingly, the Hungarians were then able to take the lead with a moment of lethality with their very first chance of the game when Barath netted in the 14th minute and could have made it two when Andras Nemeth forced a strong save from Adam Pavlesic moments later.
Zuigeber’s VAR assisted penalty in the 19th minute compounded the woes of the Australians.
Nonetheless, the Joeys were able to summon some modicum of a response to their European foes near the half’s midway point when Botic rattled the crossbar with a header in the 24th minute and an Idrus Abdulahi cross that was met with a thundering header from Peupion that was somehow kept out by towering Hungarian keeper Krisztián Hegyi.
Both sides would then produce chances as the half wound down, with Botic seemingly dragging the game back to 2-1 just moments before the halftime level when he ran onto a through ball and poked past Hegyi – only for the linesman to rule him offside by the barest of margins.
Such were the margins of the call on Botic that, had the linesman kept his flag down, VAR likely would have the necessary evidence to overturn the decision and the goal would have stood.
Nonetheless, Botic and Watt’s quickfire goals in the 69th and 74th minutes served to completely turn the game on its head.
Nemeth, who plies his club football with Genk in Belgium, tried to inspire his side to some form of life as he drove in on goal and lashed a shot over the bar in the 85th minute but Australia immediately answered when Botic put the ball in the back of the net only to be adjudged offside again.