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Hungary Euro 2020 preview - prediction, fixtures, squad, star player

Ahead of this summer's European Championship, Sports Mole assesses the chances of Hungary escaping the tournament's 'Group of Death'.

Set to face three Euro 2016 semi-finalists in the group stage, recently resurgent Hungary head into their second successive European Championship with the odds stacked against them.

Since rejoining the continent's elite with qualification for the finals in France five years ago, the Magyars have been promoted to Nations League B and are in a rich vein of form.

Hungary players salute their fans after their final Euro 2020 warm-up game on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Despite a distinct deficit of star names, the current Hungarian side have been thriving under head coach Marco Rossi in the run-up to this summer's finals, where they will be aided by hosting two of their three group games in front of partisan crowds, in Budapest.

Hungary's pedigree is certainly strong - having competed in the Euros' first-ever qualifying match, against the Soviet Union on 28 September 1958 - but so is their competition, in a fearsome-looking 'Group of Death'.

Here, then, Sports Mole assesses Hungary's prospects at Euro 2020.


GROUP

Defending champions Portugal, World Cup winners France and continental powerhouses Germany comprise Hungary's opposition in a devilishly difficult Group F, so sustaining their recent momentum will prove an onerous task.

Euros Group F

To book a place in the last 16, the Magyars must take full advantage of hosting their opening two fixtures in the Hungarian capital, before travelling to Munich to meet Germany in a potentially decisive game.

They will, at least, have fond memories from their epic encounter with the Portuguese in the previous edition, when Balazs Dzsudzsak's double and Zoltan Gera's fierce drive (later voted Fans' Goal of the Tournament) earned an improbable 3-3 draw in Lyon.

FIXTURES

June 15: Portugal vs. Hungary (5pm, Ferenc Puskas Stadium, Budapest)
June 19: Hungary vs. France (2pm, Ferenc Puskas Stadium, Budapest)
June 23: Germany vs. Hungary (8pm, Allianz Arena, Munich)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Hungary may have finished fourth in their Euro 2020 qualifying group, but earned a playoff place due to an earlier second-placed finish in the Nations League.

Facing World Cup finalists Croatia, plus Wales, Slovakia and Azerbaijan in Group E, they took maximum points from both the Croats and Wales at home, as well as recording successive wins over Azerbaijan. However, successive defeats to Slovakia and two further away losses left them stranded just outside the automatic qualifying spots.

Hungary players celebrate qualifying for Euro 2020 in November 2019© Reuters

Marco Rossi's side therefore took the 'back door' route, beating Bulgaria and then fellow 2016 finalists Iceland in the playoffs.

A relatively straightforward 3-1 win in Sofia was followed by November's late comeback at home to the Icelanders, as two goals in the dying minutes proved just reward for the Magyars' absolute dominance in the decider.

Dominik Szoboszlai was, perhaps suitably, the man who sealed their ticket to this year's main event, when two minutes into stoppage time, his 20-yard strike earned a 2-1 victory at the Puskas Arena. Unfortunately, though, an adductor strain has prevented their star man from featuring since he joined RB Leipzig from Austrian champions Salzburg in January, and he will therefore miss out on the finals.


RECENT FORM

The Magyars are unbeaten in 11 games and will be looking to keep that run of form going into their opening game, against Portugal. Hungary have, in fact, won seven and drawn four since last losing in September 2020.

Hungary's Willi Orban and Attila Szalai in action with Republic of Ireland Troy Parrott on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Having finished top of Nations League League 3 Group B - ahead of Russia, Serbia and Turkey - they are also currently second to England in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.

Comfortable wins by three-goal margins against group minnows Andorra and San Marino followed an entertaining 3-3 home draw with Poland, to leave them well-placed in the early running to achieve a playoff spot for next year's global finals.

In pre-tournament friendlies versus Cyprus and the Republic of Ireland, the Hungarians were not entirely convincing - beating the former 1-0, before being held to a goalless draw by Stephen Kenny's struggling side.


SQUAD

Hungary players salute their fans after their final Euro 2020 warm-up game on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Goalkeepers: Peter Gulacsi (RB Leipzig), Denes Dibusz (Ferencvaros), Adam Bogdan (Ferencvaros)

Defenders: Gergo Lovrencsics (Ferencvaros), Endre Botka (Ferencvaros), Adam Lang (Omonia Nicosia), Akos Kecskes (Lugano), Attila Fiola (Fehervar), Willi Orban (Leipzig), Attila Szalai (Fenerbahce), Bendeguz Bolla (Fehervar)

Midfielders: Loic Nego (Fehervar), Adam Nagy (Bristol City), Laszlo Kleinheisler (Osijek), David Siger (Ferencvaros), Daniel Gazdag (Philadelphia Union), Andras Schafer (Dunajska Streda) Tamas Cseri (Mezokovesd), Filip Holender (Partizan Belgrade)

Forwards: Adam Szalai (Mainz), Roland Sallai (Freiburg), Nemanja Nikolic (Fehervar), Kevin Varga (Kasımpasa), Roland Varga (MTK Budapest), Szabolcs Schon (FC Dallas), Janos Hahn (Paks)


STAR PLAYER - Peter Gulacsi

Peter Gulacsi pictured in action for Hungary on June 8, 2021© Reuters

Since leaving Liverpool - via Hereford United and Tranmere Rovers - in 2013, Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi has deservedly earned the moniker of 'The Wall' at his Bundesliga club, RB Leipzig.

It was at their Austrian cousins Salzburg - where he moved after exiting Anfield - that Gulacsi first demonstrated why the Premier League club plucked him from the relative obscurity of MTK Budapest back in 2007.

Switching Austria for Germany soon after, he aided Leipzig's ascent to the top flight five years ago; consistently exuding an understated authority at the foundation of one of Europe's most exciting sides.

Perhaps one of the continent's most underrated goalkeepers of recent years, the Budapest-born stopper posted 15 clean sheets from 30 league starts last season, after becoming the first Hungarian to appear in the Champions League semi-finals during the 2019-20 campaign.

A two-time Austrian Bundesliga winner, the 31-year-old has already been named Hungary's Player of the Year on three occasions, as he now heads into what should be his peak years as Leipzig's last line of defence.


MANAGER - Marco Rossi

Hungary head coach Marco Rossi pictured on June 8, 2021© Reuters

A moderately-talented defender at Brescia and Sampdoria during the 1990s, Marco Rossi has worked his way up the coaching ranks, having taken the helm at Lumezzane, Pro Patria, Spezia, Cavese and, eventually, Hungarian club Honved, before his appointment as Magyars' manager.

Since taking over from Belgium's Georges Leekens in June 2018 - when Hungary missed out on qualification for the World Cup for the eighth consecutive time - his win rate has hovered around a remarkable 50%, as his adopted nation have gone from strength to strength.

During a spell at Mexican superclub America, the Italian - an ardent Torino fan in his youth - fell under the spell of coaching icon Marcelo Bielsa. Noting the obsessive attention to detail and inimitable passion for the game demonstrated by 'El Loco', Rossi returned a changed man.

Labelling himself a "maniac", who cannot sleep after games due to an excess of adrenaline, he routinely watches several matches of his team's next opponent throughout the night, in order to prepare with no stone unturned.

Having stated he plans to spend the rest of his career abroad, the itinerant coach - a contemporary of both Maurizio Sarri and Massimiliano Allegri while in Serie C - has marked himself out as a managerial maverick with a point to prove.


EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD

Best finish: Third (1964)

Hungary players wave to the fans after being knocked out of Euro 2016© Reuters

Once among the world's top teams, the 'Magical Magyars' participated in two of the first four editions of the Euros, in 1964 and 1972, but Hungary have only recently returned to prominence.

A star-packed selection - featuring Ferenc Bene and Florian Albert - finished third on their first attempt at the then-titled European Nations' Cup: beating Denmark at Camp Nou, after losing out to hosts Spain in the semi-final.

They also reached the latter stages eight years later, where they lost to the Soviet Union in the semis before going down 2-1 to Belgium in the third-place playoff.

After a subsequent 44-year absence - a European Championship record - the Hungarians finally qualified for their third finals in 2016. A spectacular draw with eventual champions Portugal helped them make the last 16, where they were again beaten by Belgium.


PREDICTION

Needing to pull off some major surprises if they are to avoid a group-stage exit this summer - considering the presence of three major nations in their fully-loaded section - Hungary may play a part in deciding the outcome of Group F, but are unlikely to progress.

Certainly a squad which, once convened, becomes more than the sum of its parts, the current Magyars are capable of achieving a draw or two. That could mean upsetting the apple cart for one of their more illustrious counterparts, which is possible given some fine recent form and a well-defined approach to the game.

While not writing them off completely, they are, however, most probably going to be outgunned in terms of sheer strikepower, as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe are a class above anything the modest Hungarians have to offer in the final third.

VERDICT: Fourth in Group F

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