When the Euros draw was made back in 2019, Hungary head coach Marco Rossi must have slumped back in his seat dejected. Having worked so hard to steer Hungary to only a second major championship since 1986, Rossi was rewarded with group games against Germany, Portugal and France. Welcome, Marco, to the Group of Death!
Hungary reached the Euros via the playoffs after finishing fourth in their qualification group. They ended the 10-game base campaign behind Croatia, Wales and Slovakia and scored just eight goals over that period. But the playoffs gave Hungary a lifeline and they duly took it. Rossi’s men beat Bulgaria in the semi-final before edging Iceland 2-1 in the playoff final – Loic Nego and Dominik Szoboszlai goals reversing the tie with three minutes remaining to secure the victory. Only two players, Willi Orban and Mate Patkai, managed to score more than once during qualifying.
Now, Hungary will need to take their chances if they are to claim even a point from the group stage. Plenty of emphasis will be on veteran captain Adam Szalai to hold the ball up, while midfielder Adam Nagy will be tasked with carrying the ball forward. Rossi tends to favour a 3-5-2 system where the wing-backs Szilveszter Hangya and Gergo Lovrencsics bombard up and down the flanks. They can then revert to five at the back when digging in. The emphasis is on the break and stinging the opposition through Szalai. Both Nemanja Nikolic and Roland Sallai have proved capable of supporting the captain up front.
While Hungary lacks the star quality on display in France, Germany and Portugal’s squads, it was their unity that got them through the playoffs. After the win over Iceland newspaper Nemzeti Sport’s printed the headline ‘Football’s coming home!’ and featured images of the squad together celebrating. Five years ago, that solidity earned them top spot in Euros group F – although they were subsequently eliminated 4-0 by Belgium in the round-of-16.
Budapest is a host city for this summer’s tournament and two Hungary group Euro games – against France and Portugal – will be played at the Puskas Arena. However, their last group match versus Germany will be played in Munich. If they managed to scrape out of the Group of Death then Hungary may find themselves up against Belgium or Netherlands in the first knockout stage.
Ádám Szalai (c)