The Hungarian national team have had a torrid time since the fall of Communism in 1989 – a sad decline of a traditionally powerful footballing nation that has won three Olympic Golds and have been World Cup runners-up on two separate occasions in 1938 and 1954.
Perhaps most football fans associate Hungary with the Magical Magyars, the legendary team of the 1950’s that revolutionised the way the game is played, some may say an early form of ‘Total Football’ that the Dutch famously coined in the 1970’s. With Ferenc Puskás leading the line for the Hungarians, the team suffered just one defeat in a six year period – inflicted by West Germany in the 1954 World Cup final.
Since those dreamy days almost 70 years ago, Hungarian football has seen somewhat of a decline having failed to qualify for a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
With the country finally starting to rebuild after qualifying for this summer’s Euro 2016, we decided to catch up with Tomasz Mortimer who runs a website about Hungarian Football regarding the team’s chances in France.
Hungary return to a European Cup finals after a 44-year hiatus, what do you think of the team’s chances in Euro 2016?
I think the players and the media see the group as pretty favourable, but I think it will be a lot tougher than people think. Austria and Iceland both looked strong in qualification and while Portugal were more inconsistent, they’re always going to be dangerous with Ronaldo and co. The Hungarian Football Federation have set an ambitious target of four points from the three games but Hungary could easily come away from France with nil points should luck desert them. Progression through the group would be amazing, but just being at the tournament is impressive enough.
Why has it been so long since the last appearance – Hungary are considered strong internationally after The Magical Magyars in the 1950’s?
A number of reasons really. Since the Hungarian revolution in 1956 and the consequent dissolve of The Magical Magyars, Hungarian football slowly deteriorated for the next 30 years whilst still just about staying fairly relevant and competitive – Hungary qualified for the 1986 World Cup with ease and club side Videoton reached the UEFA Cup final the year before. But then 1989 came around, Communism fell and Hungarian football took a huge hit.
Hungarian football had a lot to learn in terms of professionalism and as people had just been given a new lease of life given the years of living under the Iron Curtain, Hungarian football was neglected. Only in the past five years since Viktor Orbán was re-elected Prime Minister has anything been done to resolve the problems.
How did the qualifiers go for Hungary – they qualified after defeating Norway in the play-offs?
The qualifiers were very up and down, as you’d expect with having three separate managers in ten (plus two play-off) games. Attila Pintér, who was controversially appointed in the December of 2013, was sacked after his first competitive game – a loss at home to Northern Ireland and from there the rookie Pál Dárdai pretty much saved Hungary’s qualification chances – he came in with no managerial experience and earned a superb draw away at arch rivals Romania in his first game.
Hungary went on to win their next two games, away to the Faroe Islands and at home to Finland before drawing at home to Greece in March and beating Finland in Helsinki in June. Unfortunately for Hungary, Dárdai was dual jobbing after taking over his beloved Hertha Berlin in the early days of 2015 and this turned out to be his last game after being given an ultimatum by the Bundesliga club.
U-20 head coach Bernd Storck came in with a weak looking CV and drew his first two against Romania and Northern Ireland in uninspiring fashion. A nervy 2-1 win over the Faroe Islands at home followed – coming from behind to snatch a victory – before a dead rubber loss to Greece 4-3 ended the qualification period.
Despite finishing third, Hungary looked set to skip the play-offs and head straight for the Euro 2016 tournament as the “Best third team”. Hungary needed either Iceland to not lose away to Turkey and/or Latvia to not lose at home to Kazakhstan – which looked like a formality. Unfortunately, Kazakhstan got their first win of the campaign in Riga, and Selçuk İnan scored a last minute free kick for Turkey to send them to France ahead of Hungary. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
The play-offs pitted the seeded Hungary up against Norway. The first leg was in Oslo in November and there was a start for debutant László Kleinheisler – who hadn’t played a competitive game all season. He of course scored the winner in an incredibly disciplined 1-0 win before Tamás Priskin paid homage to his best friend Márton Fülöp who died just a few days before, scoring a screamer and inspiring Hungary to a 2-1 win (3-1 on aggregate).
After being drawn into Group F alongside Portugal, Iceland and Austria, the team have a fighting chance of getting to the next round – what do you think about the strength of the group?
It could’ve been tougher, it could’ve been easier. Hungary have the potential to take points off all three even though they are considerably the weakest team in the group. You imagine that with Hungary’s ability to manage a game they could easily get through the group, but the lack of quality that Hungary possess in all areas might just pay on the big stage.
What kind of tactics do you expect the team to employ during the finals?
Hungary will run a lot, be very aggressive, very disciplined and look to counter and play a lot of long balls into the big man up top in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 hybrid. The style will be similar to what Hertha Berlin have played this season (as you’d probably expect). There won’t be much flash and it might be ugly to watch, but it’s Hungary’s best chance if they want to progress.
Who will be the key players for the Hungarians this summer?
There are no key players really, and there aren’t many players who you’d say are nailed down to start either apart from captain Balázs Dzsudzsák on the left (who has been in poor form for club side Buraspsor this season), Gábor Király in goal, Attila Fiola at right back, Tamás Kádár at left back and possibly László Kleinheisler in midfield who’s since moved to Werder Bremen following his heroics in Oslo last year.
Every other position is up for grabs depending on the style of play and the style of the opponents’. Balázs Dzsudzsák will probably be Hungary’s most active player and if he is at his best Hungary do have a better chance but team’s key is unity.
Are there any potential star players coming through the youth ranks that we should know about?
20 year-old Ádám Nagy of Ferencváros is one to look out for, for sure. A slight defensive midfield player who’s extremely tidy on the ball with both feet, very tactically aware and quick across the ground. To compare him to someone in England you’d say he’s a bit like Muhamed Bešić – a former Ferencváros player – but just without the volatility.
Also 22 year-old László Kleinheisler of course who’s built like a pit-bull, but very technically able with both feet and can beat a man with ease. He’s been playing intermittently with Werder since moving there in January. Zsolt Kalmár could be one to watch out for too assuming he makes the squad.
Are the Hungarians optimistic of a good showing in France?
In general yes. Optimism in Hungarian football is at an all-time high since the fall of Communism, I just hope a bad showing doesn’t inflict further damage on the already fragile Magyar Foci (Hungarian football).
Hungary (66 wins) have faced Austria (40 wins) 136 times throughout the years – what can we expect from this match in the summer – will there be ‘fireworks’?
Austria are very strong at the moment and have a far superior squad. Hungary will try to get in the faces of the Austrian’s, then sit deep and look to counter. If Hungary can get through those first 20 minutes then who knows what could happen. It’s important Hungary don’t wilt under the pressure in what will be the biggest three games of their lives.
What is the state of domestic football nowadays – Ferencváros have traditionally been a strong team, but didn’t they have some kind of meltdown in recent years? Which teams/players are dominant recently?
It’s getting better slowly and surely but it’s a long road. It’s been in a really bad place since 1989 – only two Hungarian sides have ever qualified for the Champions League proper since its inception. Ferencváros may make that three next season, they have a very strong squad again and have just won the league with six games to spare for the first time in 12 years and for the first time since their financial problems you alluded too.
They were relegated to the second tier and saved by Englishman Kevin McCabe but they’re now back better than ever boasting names like Zoltán Gera, Tamás Hajnal, Roland Lamah, Thomas Doll as manager and exciting youth such as András Radó, and Ádám & Dominik Nagy.
For the past four years there have been four different champions in Hungary, but you feel like this Ferencváros team, backed by the biggest fan base in the country, may be set to dominate for a while.
Hungary have won the Olympic Gold three times in their history, is a team going to Rio de Janeiro this year to compete?
Unfortunately they didn’t qualify but they put up quite a good showing in the U-20 World Cup last summer losing 2-1 in the Round of 16 in extra time to eventual winners Serbia after conceding a heartbreaking 91st minute equaliser. That side were coached by current national team boss Bernd Storck.
Goalkeeper Gábor Király has the chance to become the all-time leading appearance maker for the national team – at 40 years-old, will he be taken to France and have the chance to overtake the legendary József Bozsik?
Yep, Bernd Storck has said Király will be first choice in France after an impressive qualification campaign and a man of the match performance against Norway in Oslo. He’ll be the first 40 year old to ever appear in a European Championships!
A huge thanks goes out to Tomasz Mortimer for agreeing to the interview and answering in such depth. If you are a fan of Hungarian football please be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his website and associated Twitter account.