ZTE 1-0 Man United – The Day Zalaegerszeg Shocked United

 

With Videoton’s European exploits continuing to flourish, we look back at Hungary’s best club performance this millenium.

Zalaegerszeg’s relegation from NBI last season took everyone by surprise. After an impressive fourth place finish the season before, many pundits expected ZTE to push on and perform in the same manner, but injuries, poor performances and the loss of their talisman Prince Racojmar to MVV saw 2002’s NBI champions drop down to the second tier for the first time in over two decades.

But ten years ago, things were completely different. After securing a firm foothold in NBI, Zalaegerszeg were one of the best sides in the league and the striking partnership of Krisztian Kenesei and Gabor Egressy was starting to flourish. In their title winning season, Kenesei and Egressy scored a superb 37 goals between them (in 30 games) racking up an impressive 71 points in the process.

Their league win meant a first trip into the European Cup (Champions League) for Peter Bozsik’s men, and a difficult tie with NK Zagreb was to be their first taste of European action since 1985.

ZTE managed to scrape past the Croatians winning on away goals thanks to a late goal from defender Florian Urbán in Zagreb. Man United was the next poor of call in the 3rd Qualifying Round, and an enticing tie against the 1999 Champions League winners.

Zala went into the game with no expectation whatsoever. The first leg was at home, and since the ZTE arena was deemed unfit for the match, the game was moved to the Ferenc Puskas Stadium in Budapest – over 200km from home.

There was a raucous atmosphere at the national stadium. ZTE were hoping for a draw, but realistically, anything less than 3-0 would be deemed as a good result. The gulf in class between the two sides was clear to see. Man United had the likes of; Van Nistelrooy, Beckham, Veron and Keane, while Zala had; Kenesei, Egressy, Ilic and a certain Bela Koplarovic.

Man United were understandably dominant. Ole Solsjkaer hit the post early on for the English giants, and the Norweigan had another chance a few minutes later which was blocked by the superb Urbán.

But for all their possession and pressure, Zala didn’t seem to be overawed by United, and the blustery conditions were making it difficult for United to impose themselves on the game. Indeed, the Hungarian champions went close to breaking the dead lock when Otto Vincze’s rasping drive was brilliantly saved by Roy Caroll in the United goal.

After the interval, the English club upped the tempo, with Giggs, Keane, Veron and Beckham dominating the midfield, and it wasn’t long before United had the ball in the Zala net. A quick cross from Beckham was flicked on by Keane to Van Nistelrooy who dispatched the leftovers – only for the linesman flag to rule to it offside.

The 1999 champions were starting to get frustrated with Beckham and Van Nistelrooy receiving bookings for dissent, and then came the crucial blow.

As the game ebbed into added time, Tamas Szamos found himself with room on the left hand side after a mistake from Phil Neville, and his ball was smashed across the six yard box for Bela Koplarovic to bundle home sending the fans into raptures. An old fashioned pile-on ensued, and a lasting image of goalkeeper Sasa Ilic overcome with emotion in the Zala goal.

His words after the game summed it up. “I’m overwhelmed with tonight’s result”, he said. “What you must understand is that this is a very small club from a very small town. Not many teams beat Man U, especially from the outback of Hungary. We came into tonight’s game hoping for a draw at best.”

Sir Alex Ferguson was understandably disappointed, “Our opponents didn’t have a kick in the second half. The pitch was very bobbly, and we didn’t take our chances.”

A fortnight later it was to be completely different. Ilic had said in his post-match interview that they weathered the drizzle, and they had to expect the storm. And the storm inevitably came. A 5-0 thumping at Old Trafford wasn’t the ideal way for Zala to follow up their magnificent win, and their Champions League campaign was over.

Since then, Manchester United have sailed away, but for ZTE and Hungary, it was a massive win. Now 10 years on, it’s even more unbelievable.

 

 


Zalaegerszeg: Ilic, Szamosi, Budisa, Urban, Babati, Farago (Balogh 74), Egressy (Molnar 65), Csoka, Kenesei (Koplarovic 83), Darko Ljubojevic, Vincze.
Subs Not Used: Turi, Sabo, Kral, Joszi.

Man Utd: Carroll, Brown (Phil Neville 5), Blanc, O’Shea, Silvestre, Beckham, Veron, Keane, Giggs, Solskjaer (Forlan 80), van Nistelrooy.
Subs Not Used: Butt, Stewart, Scholes, Tierney, Williams.

Attendance: 40,000

Referee: Wolfgang Stark (Germany).