Southgate hopes behind-closed-doors Hungary match will serve to educate fans

By Sports Desk June 03, 2022

Gareth Southgate hopes Hungary being forced to play their Nations League opener against England behind closed doors will serve to demonstrate the unacceptability of racism to younger fans.

Saturday's sparse crowd at the Puskas Arena will be populated by children after UEFA issued Hungary with a three-match spectator ban due to racist abuse by supporters during Euro 2020 games in Budapest.

UEFA rules state children - along with one adult for every 10 young fans - can attend behind-closed-doors matches, which England will also take advantage of when they also serve a one-match spectator ban during their home game against Italy at Molineux on June 11.

England's punishment was handed down after crowd trouble broke out prior to the Three Lions' Euro 2020 final loss to Roberto Mancini's men last July.

Southgate's side have been faced with unsavoury scenes when visiting Hungary before, with Raheem Sterling and other black players the target of abuse during England's 4-0 win in Budapest in September 2021 – with FIFA giving the hosts a separate spectator ban after those events.

Speaking at his pre-match news conference, Southgate stated his hope that allowing young fans to attend in such circumstances will help to bring about a future free of discrimination.

"I imagine Hungary will have the same feelings about restrictions on their home games as us, they won't want it to happen again. Everybody learns from every experience," he said.

"Our players wanted to focus on the football after that night [last year's 4-0 win]. They played incredibly well, and we want to do that again.

"We've shown how we feel about these issues, in terms of racism and it's unacceptability. Hopefully the young people in the stadium will recognise why this opportunity has happened and, in some ways, maybe this will be part of the education for the next generation.

"Each generation that passes will bring more tolerance, and we have the same situation in our country, so we've got to keep setting the right example. All being well, the young people will enjoy the game and take a bigger message from it."

Meanwhile, England skipper Harry Kane, who scored during the dominant win in Hungary last year, says the Three Lions are focused on what they can do on the pitch.

"Obviously, the way the players responded during that game was a credit to themselves," he recalled.

"It's down to UEFA and what they see fit as the punishment. We can only perform to the best of our ability and try and get the three points. 

"We hope the game goes well for the fans watching, for the children coming to watch the players. We're concentrating on the game, and we want to get off to a good start."

England have faced Hungary regularly in recent years, also drawing 1-1 with Marco Rossi's team in a World Cup qualifier last October, and will encounter them twice more within the next fortnight.

Southgate believes that Wembley stalemate provided a better representation of Hungary's strength than the previous meeting in Budapest, and is prepared for a challenging contest.

"The match in Budapest was one of the more different performances I've seen from Hungary over the past two or three years," he added, "Normally they are very difficult to score goals against, we played very well too.

"At Wembley, it was more like the Hungarian side I've seen, against the bigger sides particularly. They are difficult to break down, and it will be a tough match."

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