Euro: Hungary deserve to be in the knockouts, says coach Stork
Hungary's Roland Juhasz (right) and Balazs Dzsudzsak (left) celebate topping Group F and going through to the knock-out stage after their 3-3 draw with Portugal
Euro 2016 upstarts Hungary have steadily improved during the group stage of the tournament and played their best football in Wednesday's pulsating 3-3 draw against Portugal, coach Bernd Storck said.
The Hungarians, playing in their first major tournament in 44 years, led three times thanks to smash-and-grab goals against a dominant Portuguese side rescued by a brace from Cristiano Ronaldo, who became the first player to score in four European Championship finals.
Despite being denied a win, Hungary went through to the last 16 as group winners and Storck heaped praise on his outfit.
"I have to compliment my team for a great performance, we played even better than in the opening two games and deserve to be in the knockout stages," the German told a news conference.
"We made five changes to the team but I am not surprised by the performance or the result, I have a squad of 23 players in which everyone can do a good job.
"We had a very good history in the 1950s and 60s but this is a bygone era and I want to talk about this team who earned their berth in the Euro 2016 knockout stages."
Hungary's 37-year-old midfielder Zoltan Gera opened the scoring and then came off at halftime, prompting fears among fans that he picked up an injury.
Storck, however, said that the fully-fit stalwart was not even supposed to feature in the high-octane clash.
"We wanted to rest him and spare him for the knockout stage but we needed his presence because his alternatives could not recover from injuries," he said.
"He produced a world class performance in the first half and we decided to take him off so he could save some energy."
Having been subdued in his opening two games and much of the first half at Parc OL, Ronaldo fired on all cylinders after the interval as he netted twice to help Portugal avoid what would have been an embarrassing early exit.
Storck acknowledged the triple World Player of the Year was bound to rediscover his scoring touch after a couple of tepid performances against Iceland and Austria.
"We know Ronaldo is a world class player and he cannot be stopped every time," he said.
"I think we didn't allow Portugal too many chances but when Ronaldo has the ball, he can score."