Hungary back in the big time after long absence


Hungary's Balazs Dzsudzsak. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Hungary’s return to the big stage has been a very long time in coming. One a world power in the sport, the Hungarians’ last appearance at a major international tournament came during the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, and it’s been 44 years since they previously qualified for the European Championship (they finished third in 1972 in Belgium). Their appearance in France this summer won’t mark new era of Hungarian supremacy. But it sure is nice to see them back and competing among Europe’s elite teams.

Goalkeepers: Gabor Kiraly (Haladas), Denes Dibusz (Ferencvaros), Peter Gulacsi (Leipzig).
Defenders: Attila Fiola (Puskas Academy), Barnabas Bese (MTK Budapest), Richard Guzmics (Wisla Krakow), Roland Juhasz (Videoton), Adam Lang (Videoton), Tamas Kadar (Lech Poznan), Mihaly Korhut (Debrecen).
Midfielders: Adam Pinter (Ferencvaros), Gergo Lovrencsics (Lech Poznan), Akos Elek (Diosgyor), Zoltan Gera (Ferencvaros), Adam Nagy (Ferencvaros), Laszlo Kleinheisler (Werden Bremen), Zoltan Stieber (Nuremberg).
Forwards: Balazs Dzsudzsak (Bursaspor), Adam Szalai (Hannover), Krisztian Nemeth (Al Gharafa), Nemanja Nikolics (Legia Warsaw), Tamas Priskin (Slovan Bratislava), Daniel Bode (Ferencvaros).

German Bernd Storck played over 150 Bundesliga games, mostly for Borussia Dortmund, before becoming an assistant coach at Hertha Berlin. He’s since worked with a number of youth teams, and spent time as manager of the Kazakhstan national team. Storck took charge on Hungary in 2015, leading the team through a successful Euro qualifying campaign as the country clinched its first berth at a major international tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

4-2-3-1: (GK) Kiraly – (D) Kadar, Lang, Guzmics, Fiola – (M) Gera, Nagy – (M) Nemeth, Kleinheisler, Dzsudzsak – (F) Priskin

MORE ON EURO 2016: Sportsnet has you covered with in-depth coverage of Euro 2016 in France, which runs from June 10 to July 10.

Match schedule || Group standings || Live scoreboard || Roster lists
Profiles: All 24 teams || History of Euro || Top 10 moments in Euro history

June 14: vs. Austria in Bordeaux
June 18: vs. Iceland in Marseille
June 22 vs. Portugal in Lyon

Hungary was one of the teams that benefited from the expansion of the tournament from 16 to 24 nations. The Hungarians finished behind Northern Ireland and Romania in their group, but were given a life line into the playoffs as a third-place team. Hungary then defeated Norway in their two-legged series 3-1 on aggregate, with a 2-1 win in Budapest in the deciding fixture sealing their fate.

Hungary plays with a clear tactical identity, with the back four protected by two holding players, and a midfield three serving as a creative spark behind the lone striker. They have a core of veteran players (most notably goalkeeper Gabor Kirlay and former West Bromwich defender Zoltan Gera), and they’re brimming with confidence after beating Norway with a superb display in the playoffs

For a side that tries to play defensively tight, Hungary gives up far too many goals—10 in 12 qualifying games—and mostly find themselves on the back foot, fending off teams who enjoy the majority of possession and dictate the pace of the game. Depth is also an issue—beyond the starting 11 there isn’t a terrible amount of quality.

Balazs Dzsudzsak: The Hungarian captain is a genuine game-breaker, with his probing runs down the right flank, he boasts great pace, and is a threat to score from set pieces. He can also curl dangerous crosses into the box.

Laszlo Kleinheisler: He’s a bit of a wild card. The 22-year-old midfielder made his debut in the first leg of the playoffs against Norway and scored a gorgeous goal to give Hungary a massive advantage going home for the return match.

Gabor Kiraly: The veteran goalkeeper has over 100 appearances to his credit since his debut in 1998, and he is his country’s all-time leader in caps. At 40 years old, he’s set to become the oldest player ever to compete at the European Championship.

Can they raise their game like they did vs. Norway? Hungary couldn’t beat Northern Ireland and Romania in the qualifiers, and had to content itself with wins over the Faroe Islands and Finland. But they were sensational in the two-legged playoffs against Norway, dominating the series and playing their best soccer of the qualifying campaign. They’ll need to duplicate that kind of effort and performances level in the group stage.

Hungary finished third in their qualifying group behind Northern Ireland and Romania, hardly heavyweights. If not for the expansion of the field from 16 to 24 teams they would have been eliminated. It’s hard to imagine them fairing much better in a far more difficult group in France that includes Austria and Portugal. The second game against Iceland is a must-win if they have any chance of moving on to the Round of 16.


Soccer Central Podcast

Sportsnet’s Soccer Central podcast (featuring Thomas Dobby, Brendan Dunlop, John Molinaro and James Sharman) takes an in-depth look at the beautiful game and offers timely and thoughtful analysis on the sport’s biggest issues.

Listen now | iTunes | Podcatchers

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.