By Adam Csanyi

May 21st marked the start of the Union of European Football Associations’ (UEFA) 2020 Euro qualifiers. The 2020 Euros will be quite different compared to its predecessor in terms of the host country. The 2020 Euros will be co-hosted by 12 countries in 12 cities: England (London), Germany (Munich), Italy (Rome), Azerbaijan (Baku), Romania (Bucharest), Ireland (Dublin), Denmark (Copenhagen), Scotland (Glasgow), Hungary (Budapest), Spain (Bilbao), Netherlands (Amsterdam) and Russia (Saint Petersburg) (UEFA). 

1 Source: Daily News Hungary

The qualifying groups were drawn on December 2nd, 2018. Hungary was drawn into Group E alongside  Slovakia, Wales, Croatia and Azerbaijan. All teams, apart from Azerbaijan, have top players who have competed in top European leagues in top European football clubs. Croatia boasts Luka Modric (Real Madrid) and Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Wales has Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) and Davies Ben (Tottenham Spurs), Slovakia holds its own with Hamsik Marek (former player of Napoli, currently playing in the Chinese Superliga) and Dubravka Martin (New Castle). 

However, the Hungarian National Team also has some players who and were playing in top European Leagues – Gulácsi Péter (RB Leipzig), Willi Orban (RB Leipzig), Kádár Tamás (Dinamo Kijev), Nagy Ádám (Bologna), Szoboszlai Dominik (Szalzburg), Szalai Ádám (Hoffenheim) and Balogh Nobert (APOEL). 

Prior to the start of the UEFA Euros Qualifiers, Hungary competed in the 2018 UEFA Nations League. Hungary played four friendly games under the instruction of George Leekens before the UEFA Nations League begun. However, after losing to Kazakhstan, Scotland and Australia and a draw to Belarus, Leekens was fired in June 2018. An Italian head coach, Marco Rossi, replaced Leekens. Rossi coached a Hungarian club prior to his arrival, Honvéd and won the Hungarian League in the 2016/2017 season. Rossi’s performance during the 2018 Nations League was a major improvement compared to Leeken’s. Rossi won three out of the six Nations League fixtures at the Groupama Arena against Finland, Estonia and Greece, lost two away games  against Greece and Finland. Finally, the team came to a draw against Estonia. Hungary finished second in Division C in Group 2, missing out on a play off opportunity for the UEFA 2020 Euros, which was a crucial opportunity. 

A team can qualify for the 2020 Euros in two ways. The first way is too finish top two in its qualifying group. This way, the team will qualify directly for the tournament. The second way is to win the Nations League group. By winning the Nation’s League group, the team that won was given a playoff spot if it did not finish in the top two in its Euro qualifying group. If the team wins the playoff, the team will qualify for the tournament. 

2 Source: CsakFoci

2 Source: CsakFoci

Hungary’s first qualifying game was against Slovakia on March 21st in Trnava. One has to know about Hungarian football that with all countries bordering Hungary, there is always a close rivalry. Especially with Romania and Slovakia, due to the two country’s history and Hungary’s formal territorial claims. It was crucial to win the Slovakian fixture both for national pride and for the three points. 

The atmosphere at the Slovakia-Hungary fixture was as one expected. The Hungarian fans chanted “Ria Ria Hungária, Hajrá Magyarok (Go Hungary), Vesszen Trianon (Down with the Treaty of Trianon) and lesz még Erdély Magyországé (Transylvania will be part of Hungary again). Nevertheless, sound grenades were also present throughout the game. Hungary lost 2-0 to Slovakia. The first goal came after a double defensive error. Korhut Mihály (left back defender) failed to intercept the pass of Pekarik Peter to Rusnak Albert. From there on, Rusnak Albert passed the ball to Duda Ondrej. Willi Orban left enough space for Duda, couple of meters away from the Goal to finish the attack. The second goal was scored by Rusnak Albert, who gave the assist in the first goal. Rusnak drifted wide and cut back afterwards and aimed for the near post, which Gulácsi Péter was not able to block. Hungary had one major chance to equalize after the first goal, by a volley of Ádám Szallai, however, the Slovakian goalkeeper Dubravka Martin blocked the shot. The end result: 2-0 for Slovakia. 

Match highlights: http://m.livetv.ru/en/showvideo/690966_slovakia_hungary/

Following the game, Ádám Szallai, the captain of the Hungarian team when Dzsuzsdák Balázs is not on the field, gave a heated interview. He highlighted the defensive errors that were made. “Our defense is disheartening, actually the whole team is. There was a plan, but the first goal was really disappointing. It matters a lot, who plays at what level, what kind of league he plays in, what tactical skills he has when he comes to the national team(Nemzeti Sport Online). It was evident, following the defeat against Slovakia, that if the National team does not win against Croatia, or at least draws, then the chances for qualifying for the Euros will become very slim.

The Hungary-Croatia fixture was held on March 24th at the Groupama Arena. Hungary had won five out of six of its last competitive fixtures at Groupama Arena. Even though betting odds were highly in the favor of the Croatian team, expert predictions quoted that: “Hungary being a tricky side to beat here in Budapest, and with their impressive recent home record in competitive fixtures, we think that over even money for the home side to win or draw is a great bet” (Freesupertips). Nevertheless, the Croatian team, who won silver medal at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, is not the same team that won the medal. They finished last in their group at the 2018 Nations League and faced a devastating defeat against Spain, who scored six goals in a single match against the Croatians. Further on, Azerbaijan was able to break down the Croatian defense on March 21st and scored the first goal of the fixture. However, Croatia won the game 2-1. 

All tickets were sold out on the Hungary-Croatia fixture, with the attendance rate approximately 20,000. The Croatian sector was also sold out as well. Prior to the start of the game, the Croatian fan’s voices dominated the stadium. However, as soon as the teams lined up for the national anthems, they were barely heard throughout the game. The same chants went on as usual by the Hungarian fans. 

3 Source: M4 Sport

The first goal was scored by Croatia in the 13th minute, even though the Hungarian team was attacking impressively up to the point. This goal was scored also due to a defensive error. Luka Modric passed the ball into the box to Andrej Kramaric who was left unmarked, who then passed the ball over to Rebic Ante, who in similar manner, was left unmarked as well and shot the ball into the right corner pass Gulácsi Péter. However, 21 minutes later in the 34th minute, following a counter attack and an accurate pass from Dzsudzsák Balázs, Szallai Ádám scored the equalizer by shooting the ball low from a sharp angel, which Lovre Kalinic was not able to block. In 40th minute, Nagy Dominik was tackled just outside of the box and had to be carried off the pitch due to an ankle injury. 

Throughout the second half, the Hungarian team kept attacking aggressively and scored the third goal of the fixture to take the lead in the 76th minute. Dzsudzsák Balázs took the corner kick and aimed toward Pátkai Máté, who was able to hit the ball with a volley. Following the third goal, the Hungarian team switched from an attacking to a defensive play, Dzsudzsák was substituted by Bese Barndabás (defender) and maintained their lead until the final whistle. Hungary-Croatia final result: 2-1. Match highlights: https://highlightsfootball.com/video/hungary-vs-croatia-highlights/

Wales has also drawn even against Slovakia at home. Therefore, apart from Azerbaijan, all teams stand on the same points in the group, at 3 points with various goal differences. The next two games that the Hungarian team will be playing will be on June 8th and 11th, against Azerbaijan away and at home against Wales, respectively. 

4 Source: UEFA