Nikolic secures morale-boosting win for Hungary
Nemanja Nikolic made it two goals in two games on his return to the national team as Hungary closed the year of 2017 with a 1-0 win over FIFA 2018 World Cup participants Costa Rica in the Groupama Aréna in Buapest on Tuesday evening.
Interim head coach Zoltán Szélesi handed Újpest midfielder Dániel Nagy his first start in the national team and a recall for Ferencváros goalkeeper Dénes Dibusz while centre-back Tamás Kádár captained the team in the absence of Balázs Dzsudzsák with Vinicius alongside him and Barnabás Bese at right-back and János Szabó on the left. Máté Patkai and József Varga, starting his first Hungary match since September 2014, were at the fulcrum of the midfield with Roland Ugrai on the right and Tamás Priskin on the left in wide positions and Dániel Nagy behind Nikolic who took up a lone-striker role.
Hungary, in all-white, started from right to left in front of the Groupama Aréna's main stand and were soon on the attack, Ugrai running at the Costa Rica left-back Rónald Matarrita and tricking his way along the right byline before winning a corner, which came to nothing. The home team was forced into two early substitutions when centre-back Paulo Vinicius and central midfielder Máté Patkai suffered injuries which curtailed their involvement, those two replaced by Zsolt Korcsmár and Ádám Nagy respectively.
Perhaps partly due to these early changes the game was struggling to kick into life. In the 18th minute Tamás Priskin nodded on Dániel Nagy's lofted pass to Nemanja Mikolic but his first touch was too heavy to allow him to run in on goal. The visitors were also unable to fashion clear opportunities despite showing their electric pace when striding forward in attack.
Substitute Nagy showed similar intent to penetrate the opposing backline when he ran at the Costa Rica rearguard and earned a free-kick 30 metres from goal, a foul for which the central American defender was cautioned. Ugrai then blasted the set-piece low towards goal and Nikolic showed admirable improvisation to divert the ball to the right of goalkeeper Leonel Moreira and into the vacant side of the goal, in doing so handing his side a 36th-minute lead which they probably just deserved and subsequently preserved for the rest of the half.
There were no changes for the hosts during the break so it was perhaps no surprise that the team continued to play in diligent, probing fashion, Priskin nearly extending the lead but only managing a tame shot on goal when clean through while under heavy pressure from a covering defender. The Ferencváros striker then made way for his club colleague Dániel Böde just before the hour mark but he was barely given a sniff of a chance to impress in the next quarter of an hour as Costa Rica finally settled down and began to threaten. Firstly, Giancarlo González shot straight at Dénes Dibusz before substitute Francisco Calvo headed narrowly wide of the near right post. Dibusz superbly tipped another replacement Bryan Oviedo's fierce, low, left-foot drive around the post before yet another substitute Christian Bolanos fired a shot at goal which Dibusz dealt with easily.
Hungary were sparked into life once again when fresh legs arrived in the forms of Krisztián Németh and Dávid Márkvárt but although the latter nearly bundled in a right-wing cross from close range, chances were still very much at a premium for Szélesi's charges. Zoltán Stieber came on for Roland Ugrai in injury time to win his 25th international cap but despite one or two swift, late counter-attacks, visiting goalkeeper Moreira wasn't forced into any further saves. That didn't worry the home fans though as they were soon able to celebrate the final whistle, a clean sheet and a single-goal victory which ends a tumultuous year for their national team on a positive note.