Substitute Zoltán Gera fired a second-half hat-trick to lead Hungary to a 3-0 win over San Marino at the Megyeri úti stadium in Budapest tonight and take his side to the top of EURO 2004™ qualifying Group 4.
Hungary are ahead of Latvia on goal difference with four points from two matches, one point more than Poland, their next Group 4 opponents whom they face in March. Imre Gellei's side were looking to build on their impressive draw away in Sweden on Saturday, but were frustrated by San Marino during the first half, and it was not until the introduction of Gera that the game turned their way.
Hungary were restricted to a couple of half-chances in the opening period, but the home fans were brought to life four minutes after the restart when Gera broke the deadlock with a spectacular overhead kick from eight metres.
Hungary doubled their lead on 61 minutes, Gera this time striking powerfully into the top corner with his left foot from 16 metres after being picked out by midfield player Pál Dárdai.
San Marino offered little in attack. Their best chance of note came on 32 minutes when Hungary keeper Gábor Király comfortably collected Andy Salva's strike from distance, and the result was already beyond doubt when Gera completed his hat-trick a minute from time. Strike partner Attila Tököli was the provider, crossing for Gera to head in Hungary's third.
'Harder than we expected'
Despite Hungary's dominance throughout the match, Gellei was impressed by San Marino's fighting spirit, but in particular Gera's application after coming off the bench to win his side the match. "We knew that it would be tough, but it was harder than we expected," the Hungary coach said. "The substitute's job is to save the team and Gera did just that."