"It's a result that will lift the whole country," said Gergely Rudolf after hitting Hungary's 90th-minute winner against Sweden on Friday night and shaking things up in the Group E qualification mix.
The 2-1 success for the hosts in Budapest reignited the battle for second place behind the Netherlands, with Hungary now level with Sweden on 15 points and back in the race for UEFA EURO 2012 – even if the Scandinavian side possess a game in hand and look favourites to hold on to runners-up spot.
Rudolf's clinical finish made the difference in a game in which Hungary recovered from a first-half penalty miss by Tamás Hajnal to take the lead through Imre Szabics on the stroke of half-time. A Christian Wilhelmsson equaliser pegged back the hosts before Genoa CFC striker Rudolf, currently on loan to Panathinaikos FC, settled the tie in the dying moments.
"I fed the ball out to [Tamás] Priskin on the right and he held it up well, so I had time to make my run," Rudolf explained. "
As soon as the ball left Priskin's foot, I knew I was going to score."
Sándor Egervári's team were missing several key players through suspension and injury, including Zoltán Gera, Roland Juhász and Balázs Dzsudzsák. "Nobody really thought we could beat the Swedes, but we believed in ourselves, and our supporters were behind us all the way," the 26-year-old Rudolf added. "Those players who came in as replacements did a really great job. It's a result that will lift the whole country."
Prior to the game, Hungary had lost their last six outings against Sweden and not beaten their visitors since a 1-0 win in EURO '96 qualifying. "I felt they were a little over-confident and believed they would come here and easily win the game," Rudolf said. "In the second half, they really upped the tempo and had some good opportunities, but so did we. I felt we deserved the victory."
Swedish goalscorer Wilhelmsson was dismayed by the result, meanwhile. "We created enough chances to win this game; it's tough and we're very disappointed" commented the Al-Hilal FC midfielder, who could not help but be reminded of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's last-minute winner against Hungary in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying, the last time the sides met in Budapest. "History came back to bite us."
Wilhelmsson nonetheless expects Sweden to go on to take second spot in Group E. "We have to fight for it and we know now it's going to be a little tougher than we would have liked but we can do it," he said.
SK Sturm Graz forward Szabics, scorer of Hungary's opener, was sanguine about his own team's qualification prospects. "It's not expected that we will qualify from this group," he explained. "
Now we have more of a chance, but other teams have to make mistakes." Both sides now face away games on Tuesday, with Sweden travelling to San Marino and Hungary needing to win in Moldova to keep the pressure on.
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