Ferencvaros: Days in Europa

Ferencvaros will take to the field at the Groupama Arena in this evening’s Champions League Qualifier against Djurgarden of Sweden looking to emulate last season’s European adventure that saw the club achieve their best European performance in a generation.

While the Green Eagles failed to progress to the Champions League Group Stage last year, dropping down into the Europa League, the reputation of the club on the European scene was enhanced tenfold as they came within a whisker of the knock-out rounds.

This season’s European campaign will start off on a slightly unusual footing due the impact that the Covid virus is having on European football.  Instead of the traditional two-legged qualifiers, tonight’s fixture is a winner-takes-all affair with no room for complacency from either side. 

In addition, despite fans being allowed back into stadia in Hungary since May for domestic fixtures, tonight’s fixture will take place behind closed doors as part of UEFA’s continued efforts to limit the spread of the Covid virus; somewhat limiting the advantage of being the home side with no rowdy support in the stadium to back the team.

With Djurgargen currently sitting 3rd in the Swedish Allsvenskan after 16 games and Ferencvaros looking slightly rusty in their season opener at MTK on Friday, might the Green Eagles miss the roar of a passionate home crowd to spur them on to victory?

However, before this season’s adventure takes flight, let’s take a look back at last season’s European campaign.

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFIERS

Champions League qualifying shouldn’t really be an easy prospect, however, in QR1 you would like a kinder draw than 8-in-a-row (now 9-in-a-row) Bulgarian champions Ludogorets. Despite the difficult nature of the opponent, Ferencvaros put in a typically disciplined performance interspersed with flashed of excitement from Tokmac and debutant Zubkov; both of whom would contribute goals in a 2-1 home win.

A nervy second leg was expected in Bulgaria, however, two Fradi goals in the opening 20 minutes put the tie to bed and, try as they might, Ludogorets could not find a way back into the tie, eventually succumbing to a 5-3 aggregate loss.

Maltese outfit Valletta were next up and once again Ferencvaros had home advantage in the first-leg.  An expectant crowd was not left disappointed as Ferencvaros comfortably ran out 3-1 winners, and could easily have added to their lead such was their dominance.

With a two goal lead to take to Malta, Ferencvaros were left in the difficult position of not knowing whether to stick or twist and go for the kill.  A penalty midway through the first half for Valletta gave the hosts hope of staging a comeback, however, Tokmac’s strike on the hour ended Maltese hopes for good.

Having dispatched of Ludogorets and Valletta in the first two rounds, Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb were next up for Ferencvaros. Unlike the previous two rounds, Fradi were away from home in the first-leg.  Despite falling behind to an early Olmo goal and looking second best for most of the first half, a stoic and disciplined second half performance, capped by Siger’s equalising goal, saw Ferencvaros record a highly creditable 1-1 draw.

Confidence was high ahead of the second leg with qualification to the play-off round and guaranteed Group Stage football at either Champions League or Europe League level the prize on offer.  All Fradi had to do was keep Dinamo at bay for 90 minutes; a task far easier said than done as a rampant Zagreb tore Ferencvaros apart time and again, running away with a 4-0 victory to send Fradi crashing out of the Champions League and into the consolation of a Europa League Play-Off against Suduva of Lithuania.

EUROPA LEAGUE

Away from home in the first-leg, Ferencvaros returned to Budapest with a goalless draw in the bag and hopes of qualification to the Group Stages very much in their own hands.

An early Verbickas goal did little to dampen the spirits of the home support or players who continued to impose their style on the game.  Goals from Varga (OG) and Boli had Fradi in the lead by the interval before Topcagic levelled for Suduva against the run of play.

Where Ferencvaros teams of the recent past may have crumbled, Rebrov’s new breed stayed strong and true to their playing style, confident that the goals would come again.  Just three minutes after losing the second goal, Fradi were back in front again thanks to that man Tokmac.  A host of chances came and went leading to a nervy finale before Signevich scored an injury time penalty, securing Europa League Group Stage football, much to the relief and joy of the home support.

Drawn against Espanyol, CSKA Moscow, and old Champions League foes Ludogorets, few observers gave Ferencvaros any hope of mounting a serious challenge  for the top two spots in Group H.

An unexpected point away to Espanyol in matchday one after a backs-to-the-wall performance was followed by a hugely disappointing home collapse against Ludogorets; the Bulgarian’s gaining revenge for their earlier Champions League Qualifying defeat at the hands of Ferencvaros by handing out a 3-0 demolition this time out.

However, much better was to come in the double-header against CSKA with Ferencvaros emerging with 4 points following another tactically perfect away performance, resulting in a 1-0 win.

Going into the final two games, Ferencvaros had exceeded all expectation by not only keeping their qualification hopes alive, but an unlikely win at home to Espanyol would all but seal European football post Christmas. 

With the clock hitting 91 minutes and the scores level at 1-1 Ferencvaros were awarded a late penalty which Skarvka slotted home sending the home fans wild with delight.  However, football is a cruel mistress, as Ferencvaros would find out 5 minutes later as Espanyol scored the latest of late equalisers to silence the home support.

Espanyol’s late late show in matchday 5 set up the mouth watering prospect of a winner-takes-all showdown in Bulgaria against Ludogorets.

Unfortunately for Ferencvaros, there would be no repeat of their 3-2 win from earlier in the season and the 1-1 draw achieved thanks to Signevich’s injury-time equaliser was not enough to see them into the knock-out rounds, finishing 0ne point behind Ludogorets in the Group.

However, despite the heartbreak of not making the Champions League and falling at the final Europa League Group hurdle, Ferencvaros European adventure of season 2019/20 has restored an element of pride, missing from the club for many years.

What will 2020/21 have in store?