This is the second installment of a 3-part preview on Hungary’s representatives in the UEFA Europa League this season. The clubs that qualified out of Hungary’s top flight will start in the First Qualifying Round of the Europa League and will face other domestic top finishers or cup winners from around Europe starting on 29 June with the first leg. The second leg will be played the following week on either 4 or 6 July and the team with the highest aggregate score will advance to the Second Qualifying Round. The losers will be eliminated from the competition.
Videoton were runners up to Honvéd in the league and on Monday, 19 June, the draw for the Europa League was held at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland where they were drawn against Maltese side Balzan FC.
Videoton FC vs Balzan FC
First leg: at Pancho Aréna, Felcsút, Hungary (cap. 3,816)
Date: Thursday, 29 June
Second leg: at Hibernians Stadium, Paola, Malta (cap. 2,968)
Date: Tuesday, 4 July
Manager: Marko Micovic (since 24 May, 2017)
Balzan jumped from finishing fourth the previous season to runners-up this past season. They were seven points off the pace of eventual league-winners Hibernian who finished strong while Balzan picked up just one point in their final two league games. Balzan averaged a league high 2.0 goals per game, but also conceded an average of 1.2 goals per game – highest in the top half of the table.
(Maltese football expert Paul Grech shares his insight on the Balzan’s players, history, and their chances in this tie. Paul is the creator of blueprintforfootball.com which endeavors to share ideas that are (or should be) influencing football.)
“There is plenty of experience in this Balzan [team] with the likes of defender Steve Bezzina along with midfielders Ryan and Paul Fenech, all players who have played for Malta. Their strength however lies in attack with Nigerian born Maltese international striker Alfred Effiong holding up the line whilst Montenegrin Bojan Kaljevic finishes them. In fact, Kaljevic ended last season as the league’s top scorer with twenty three goals.”
History: “Last season was Balzan’s best in their history. They finished second but were in the title race till the very end. What you have to remember is that Balzan FC is a small club from a very small village that historically played in the lower leagues of Maltese football. In fact it was only in 2003 that they played in the top flight for the first time and they have never won a major honour. They are however a very ambitious club backed financially by Anton Tagliaferro, a former player who moved to Australia where he made quite a mark as a funds manager. His money has helped Balzan win a place at the top table of Maltese football and he seems hungry to do more than that.”
“I don’t think that there are many people in Malta who follow Hungarian football and apart from historic clubs like Ferencvaros I wouldn’t imagine that there is a lot of knowledge. The perception, however, is that Hungarian football is at a level that is higher than the Maltese league.”
Manager: Marko Nikolic (since 6 June, 2017)
It was a season of “almost, but not quite” for Videoton. They challenged for the title throughout the league campaign only to fall at the final hurdle, losing the “winner take all” final game of the season to eventual champions Honvéd. It was slight improvement over their previous season where they finished as distant runners up to Ferencváros. The 2016-17 campaign was manager Henning Berg’s first and only season with the club – their fifth club manager in the last four years, and the Norwegian came agonizingly close to helping Vidi retain the title after a year’s hiatus.
They made it to the Third Qualifying Round of the Europa League last season, falling to Danish side Midtjylland 2-1 after extra time in Herning. All hopes were on Videoton to represent Hungary in the group stages as they went the farthest but, again, fell just short.
Despite not winning the title Videoton arguably had the most talented team in the league. Their Serbian attack duo of Marko Scepovic (13 goals, 7 assists) and Danko Lazovic (10 goals, 10 assists) was tops in the league in terms of production. Goalkeeper Ádám Kovácsik was solid, playing all 33 league games and finishing with less than a goal per game average conceded. Brazilian-born centre back Vinícius is also worth a mention as he leads a strong defense that sometimes includes the pacy Loïc Nego on the right side.
Videoton were founded in 1941 and based in Székesfehérvár, in the west of Hungary. The team changed its name to Videoton in 1968 due to a sponsorship agreement with an electronic goods manufacturer of the same name. They are an experienced club in continental football with their first appearance in the 1974-75 edition of the UEFA Cup. Videoton’s greatest moment in Europe was reaching the 1985 UEFA Cup final against Real Madrid where they lost on 3-1 on aggregate but managed to win the away tie 1-0 at the Bernabéu thanks to a late Lajos Májer goal in front of 98,000 fans.
Since 2010 Videoton have qualified for continental football in all but one season (2014-15). They reached the group stages in the 2012-13 season, finishing third in a group that included Sporting CP, Genk, and FC Basel.
Paul Grech – “It is difficult to call not least because of the lack of knowledge about Videoton, a club who I know of largely because they once played Manchester United. There is also the factor that Balzan have just changed coach – with Serbian Marco Micovic replacing Maltese Oliver Spiteri – and have a number of new players in the side. Last year, after losing 2-0 at home to Azerbaijan side Neftchi Baku, Balzan almost pulled off an amazing comeback winning 2-1 away. They will be hoping to go one better this time round.”
Chris Barrett – First, it will be difficult to keep the two managers straight as they’re both new to their respective clubs and have similar names. Balzan qualified for the First Qualifying Round in their last two seasons and played their home ties at Hibernians Stadium in Paola which isn’t their usual home ground. They have failed to score both times they’ve played there in the Europa League (losing 2-0 on both occasions). Videoton have named a strong side for their qualifiers. Pancho Aréna was a good surrogate home for them last season and they should be able to avoid defeat at home. If they can follow suit after Zeljeznicar (2015) and Neftchi Baku (2016) and win in Paola, they’ll advance.