GERMANY scraped through to the last 16 to set up a mouth-watering clash with England at Wembley after twice coming from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw with Hungary.

This wasn’t the first occasion during this tournament where the game itself felt somewhat incidental. Fans from all over the continent were given a horrific reminder of just how futile the beautiful game really is when Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the park during the second day, and the outpouring of emotion and support that followed when the game eventually resumed demonstrated just how meaningful this silly little game is for so many.

Just like that day, matters on the park were overshadowed by context in Munich. Much of the talk in the build-up was focused on UEFA’s contentious decision to insist that the Allianz Arena was not lit up in the colours of the rainbow flag, citing a need to ‘keep politics out of football’.

Victor Orban’s regime in Hungary is homophobic by design and European football’s governing body reasoned that the proposed demonstration was a reaction to this, and therefore ‘political’. It is worth pointing out that in Hungary, LGBTQ+ perspectives have been excluded from the curriculum, same-sex marriage is banned, gay couples have no right to adoption and there is no legal recognition of gender reassignment.

Last night provided the perfect opportunity for UEFA to practice what it preaches in regards to inclusion and rather predictably, they managed to bungle it. European football’s governing body has a sorry history of kowtowing to authoritarian regimes – see the 2019 Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan (a country named in 2014 as the least tolerant of LGBTQ+ people in all of Europe) or the decision to award Orban’s Hungary the 2022 final – and this latest incident was merely the latest depressing chapter.

UEFA might have kyboshed the show of support but that wouldn’t stop the fans at the ground. Rainbow flags had been smuggled in and their sporadic appearance around the vast arena was most welcome, while the few jeers that rang out as the Tannoy system blared out the Hungarian national anthem provided a telling indication of how the home support felt about it all.

Somewhere in there, the game kicked off. These two nations had last met in a competitive game in the 1954 World Cup final. It was the Germans that won 3-2 that day in a match dubbed ‘The Miracle of Bern’ but this time it was Hungary who would seemingly require divine intervention to make it out of the ‘group of death’.

There would be no helping hand from on high; instead, it was the forehead of captain Adam Szalai that sent the sizeable away support into rapture. Hungary had already shown themselves to be handy on the counter in the opening defeat to Portugal and the 1-1 draw with world champions France that followed it but it was a warning not heeded by Joachim Low. Some neat play down the right resulted in Roland Sallai threading a terrific cross through to his namesake, who made no mistake as he steered the ball past Manuel Neuer.

The game soon settled into a familiar pattern. The hosts had all of the ball and spent almost the entirety of the game camped in the Hungary half, patiently probing for an opening that never really presented itself. Mats Hummels came closest to restoring parity towards the end of the first half when he directed Joshua Kimmich’s corner onto the woodwork and in the aftermath, Matthias Ginter rushed his finish from close range, firing the ball straight at Peter Gulacsi.

The Germans toiled in the final third as wave after wave of predictable attack was repelled by the Hungarian defence until a moment of madness from Gulacsi swung the pendulum in their favour. The goalkeeper flapped at a free-kick and missed the ball entirely, leaving Kai Havertz to nod the ball into the empty net.

It took Hungary mere seconds to regain their lead. Straight from kick-off, the attackers flew forward and when Szalai gently lofted the ball through to Andras Schafer, the midfielder won the foot race with Neuer to head the ball past the Germany captain and into the goal to spark a delirious explosion of joy from the away support.

It looked for all the world like Hungary would cling on to record an historic victory but Leon Goretzka had other plans. After being introduced from the bench, the Bayern midfielder struck a powerful shot from inside the box that took a nick off of a Hungarian leg on its way towards goal.

It proved a hammer blow to the exhausted Hungarians. They had gone toe-to-toe with a continental juggernaut and left them with a bloody nose but in the end, it wasn’t enough. Low will step down from his post at the end of the campaign but his tenure is not quite over yet. England and Wembley await in the last 16.