Martin Ádám (right) has never met a player and a man like Ádám Szalai in his career (Photo: Miklós Szabó)


– Was it a penalty?
– Yes! – said Ádám Martin in the Puskás Aréna’s mixed zone to Nemzeti Sport’s question. Alessandro Bastoni knocked him over inside the penalty area in the 80th minute, and despite 67,000 Hungarian fans booing, the whistle of the French referee remained silent after the incident. – If that wasn't a penalty, I will go back to South Korea on foot on Wednesday... If the referee had given it to us and we had converted the penalty, we would have had almost 15 minutes to equalize. What we achieved in this series is wonderful, my only regret is that it ended like that.

– Your fellow teammate and team captain Ádám Szalai’s national team career has come to an end.
– It will not be easy to replace him. We are all sorry that his decision was this, but we respect it. I can say that I have met a player and a person in him that I had never met in my career. He was a leader on and off the pitch, but that's life and that's football, we have to move on. And of course, we have to find the footballer to replace him.

– His position on the pitch might as well be yours, don’t you think?

– You'll have to ask the head coach about that. My job is to play as good as possible.

– You said that what the team has achieved in the Nations League is wonderful. But you seem disappointed now.
– Because finishing in first place was so close… The first half against Italy was like a 50-50 match. Even though the visitors took the lead, the game was balanced. But after the break, instead of equalizing, we got another goal. We then rushed after the result, we had chances to score, but we were not effective in front of the goal. This time, unfortunately, nothing went in.

– If it wasn't for Gianluigi Donnarumma in Italy's goal, the match would probably have been different.
– Maybe, but it's pointless to speculate on that because he was the goalkeeper. And he was excellent. There is a reason why he is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and he will be for another fifteen years. He has done a lot to get his team advanced to Nations League final four, and we can console ourselves with the fact that we defeated Germany and England. It’s definitely something. We collected ten points in a group in which we were anything but favorites. If someone had told us before the start that we would finish with ten points in the group of death, we would have agreed. We're still a little sad that we didn't get at least a draw against Italy and therefore missed out on the first place, but in a few days, we'll be able to celebrate what we've achieved in recent months.

– At the beginning of the year, you could only dream of wearing the national team jersey, but now you have 8 caps. What has your experience been like?

– It's still a bit unbelievable that it happened to me. It's an uplifting feeling to be a member of the national team, and just as uplifting to feel what the team is surrounded with. In the Nations League, we got to play against the strongest teams in Europe, we got to measure what we can do and where we are. I don't think we feel ashamed, we shouldn't keep our heads down! I think I've had a good series too, I've done my best to help the team. In my opinion, I did what was expected of me.

– You won’t have a lot of time to rest, the league playoffs in South Korea start on Saturday. In fact, it would be easier for you and the team if you returned to Ulsan by plane instead of on foot...
– Fair enough. We have very important weeks ahead of us as we are preparing for the semifinals of the South Korea Cup, and five games left in the league. We have a five-point lead over defending champions Jeonbuk, and I hope we can hold on until the end. It would be a great feat if we could overtake the gold medalists of the last five seasons. My move to Ulsan has helped my development, and although it took me some time to adapt to the new surroundings and culture, I'm not doing badly in terms of goals and assists. In other words, so far so good, and if I could call myself a champion by the end of October, I would say I've had a good year. A very good one.

Budapest, Puskás Aréna, 67 000 spectators. Referee: Bastien (France)
HUNGARY: Gulácsi – Lang, W. Orbán, A. Szalai – Fiola, Á. Nagy (Styles, after the break), Schäfer, Kerkez (Gazdag, 57.) – Négo (Bolla, 75.), Szoboszlai (Kleinheisler, 85.) – Á. Szalai (Ádám, 75.). Head coach: Marco Rossi
ITALY: G. Donnarumma – Tolói, Bonucci, Acerbi (Bastoni, after the break) – Di Lorenzo (Mazzocchi, 90.), Barella, Jorginho (Pobega, 72.), Cristante, Dimarco – Raspadori (Scamacca, 72.), Gnonto (Gabbiadini, 66.). Head coach: Roberto Mancini
Goal scorers: Raspadori (27.), Dimarco (52.)

The other match in the group
England–Germany 3–3 (Shaw 72., Mount 75., Kane 83. – penalty, and Gündogan 52. – penalty, Havertz 67., 87.)

1. Italy 6 3 2 1 8–7 +1  11
2. HUNGARY 6 3 1 2 8–5 +3  10
3. Germany 6 1 4 1 11–9 +2  7
4. England 6 3 3 4–10 –6  3

Translated by Vanda Orosz.