Women's Champions League Final: Budapest 2019

At approximately 6pm this coming Saturday at Ferencvaros’
Groupama Arena a little bit of history will be made.  As, for the first time, Budapest will play
host to the UEFA Women's Champions League final between Lyon and
Barcelona.  It will also be the first
time that UEFA has split the host city for the men’s and women’s finals, giving
both events a separate host and helping to create a unique identity for the
games.

Defending champions Lyon will go into Saturday’s showpiece
match as favourites.  The French side has
won title competition a record five times and has an apparently impervious grip
on the trophy having won it in each of the last three seasons.

Among their ranks, Lyon can boast the current Ballon d’Or Feminin holder Ada Hegerberg.  The young Norwegian who skilfully dodged Martin Solveig’s misjudged “do you know how to twerk?” comments at last year’s Ballon d’Or ceremony, has an eye for goal having notched over one-goal-per-game in all competitions this season. 

Ada Hegerberg: Ballon d'Or

Not only will Lyon be favourites on paper, but they will surely also be the crowd favourites as well thanks, in no small part, to the presence of midfield playmaker Dzsenifer Marozsan who, despite representing Germany at International level, was born in Budapest.  Indeed Marozsan’s father, Janos, was capped on four occasions by the Nemzeti Tizenegy in the early 1990s.  Marozsan will, therefore, be looking for the dream homecoming and the addition of a third Champions League winner’s medal to her personal haul.

Local girl in the photograph: Budapest born Marozsan will be looking for a win on ‘home’ soil

Despite the odds, and potentially the crowd, being against them, Barcelona Femeni is not a proposition that should be taken lightly.  Ranked 2nd in Europe behind Lyon, the side from Catalunya will feature in their first ever Champions League final on Saturday.  In their ranks is the extremely talented English forward Toni Duggan whose 5 goals thus far have helped propel Barcelona to the Budapest finale.

Can English goal machine Duggan fire Barca to an historic first Champions League title?

Interest in the women’s game on a Europe wide level is on the increase as record attendances for games this season in Spain, Italy, and the FA Cup final in England can testify.  It, therefore, comes as no surprise to find out that Saturday’s Cup final is a sell-out event, with 22,000 spectators set a treat of top football action.

To the victors, the spoils... and this beautiful trophy

The only question that remains is whether we will see Lyon’s
dominance continue, or a new name, that of Barcelona, written on the trophy.


Honved - Paksi: Honved in Cruise Control

Goals from Filip Holender (2) and one time Liverpool and Ross County striker David N’gog saw Honved ease to a comfortable 3-0 victory over visitors Paksi in Round 25 of the NB1 season.  The result keeps Honved in the chase for European qualification while leaving Paksi in mid-table and 6-points above the relegation zone.

A fairly healthy 1,400 souls braved a dreich and dreary Saturday afternoon, forgoing other warmer indoor pursuits, in order to swell the Nandor Hidegkuti in search of raw football and entertainment.  Thanks to Messrs Holender and N’gog, the majority of those in attendance left with smiles on their faces at the end result, if not the overall product on the pitch.

After a brief communication breakdown when purchasing my
match ticket – the lady at the ticket office tried to sell me the most
expensive ticket in the house, not realising that us Scots are really stingy
bastards – I found myself in with the Honved Ultras for the game.

IN WITH THE ULTRAS

Thankfully, like me, these guys like to stand to watch their football and, led by two microphone-wielding ‘Capo’s’ at the front of the stand, also like to indulge in a sing-song for the majority of the game.  Handy if the football’s not up to much.  However, it may also have been a blessing in disguise that I don’t know the words to all the songs.  Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.

As is the norm in Hungary, the match was preceded by a rendition of the National Anthem, Himnusz .  However, as the game took place just one day after the National Day of Remembrance for the Heroes of the 1848 Revolution, the normally sombre anthem reverberated around the echoic chamber that is the Nandor Hidegkuti Stadion with renewed passion and gusto.  As an outsider to this tradition, I was moved by the sight of several lairy and heavy set chaps in front of me tearing up as the anthem reached its crescendo; a truly spine-tingling, hairs on the back of the neck moment.

Seconds later and the heavy set chaps were back to supping
on their pints and chanting “Csak a Kispest”; normal service resumed.

As expected, with neither side in particularly good form
going into the game, the opening exchanges were a tense affair, both sides struggling
to find a rhythm and looking ill at ease when in possession.

It’s an old cliché, but as the half wore on scoring the first goal took on increased significance as a means of calming one of the sides down.  And so it came in the 27th minute with virtually the first meaningful shot on goal from either side.

A long clearance by Honved’s Eke Uzoma was helped on by N’gog, picking out Holender’s run through the middle.  Once in possession, Holender was able to outpace the Paksi defence before slotting past the keeper. 1-0 Honved and a happy set of Ultras around me.

CRUISE CONTROL FOR
HONVED

As expected, Honved settled into the game after the opener
and, despite never really getting into top gear, began to take control of the
game and there was a sense of inevitability that a second goal was coming. 

Once again, it was that man Holender, who is growing into a
real leader on the pitch for Honved, who grabbed the goal.  The striker re-directing  David N’gog cross back across goal and out of reach
of Nagy, the Paksi keeper, to double the hosts advantage at the break. 

The second half picked up where the first ended with Honved in control and Paksi, to a man, not at the races.

If the second goal had an air of inevitability about it, then the third could have been signposted with neon lights as Paksi appeared to give up the ghost.  On this occasion, the Paksi defence was split apart far too easily allowing Mezghrani to hit the byline before cutting the ball back inside to N’gog to slide home and add his name to score sheet after two previous assists.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtkYBwg2VDk

With the game sewn up, Honved sat back giving up possession to Paksi who finally managed to get their own dangerman, Remili, involved in the game, started creating chances of their own, and were unlucky not to score on at least one occasion. By that time, however, the damage had been done and it was all a little too late for Paksi as Honved held out to record a vital win and secure a much needed 3 points.

ROUND 25 - ROUND-UP

Elsewhere in Round 25, league leaders Ferencvaros maintained their 8 point advantage at the top thanks to a 2-0 win over relegation threatened Haladas.  Second placed MOL Vidi beat Mezokovesd-Zsory 1-0 at home, and there were also victories for Puskas Akademia, Ujpest, and Debrecen.  Interestingly, all home sides won their Round 25 fixtures.

There’s no NB1 next week as the Nemzeti Tizenegy takes on Slovakia (Away) on Thursday before facing the might of Croatia at the Groupama on Sunday 24th March in Euro 2020 Qualifiers.  Hajra Magyarorszag.


NB1 Back with a Worldie Thanks to Remili

After a break of what seemed like forever, although in actual fact it was one of the shortest winter breaks in NB1 history, the Hungarian top division kicked back into action over the weekend. The standout game on the opening fixture list of the Spring season was undoubtedly the Budapest derby, and Saturday evening kick-off, between Ferencvaros and Budapest Honved at the Groupama Arena.

However, keen to scratch my itch for some live football and experience the highs that can only be achieved via the raw, coarseness of the Hungarian game, I plumped for the early kick-off between MTK and Paksi as my game of the day.

In truth, it was a bit of a last-minute decision as I realised I’d double booked myself for the evening and this was the only way I’d get my live football fix. But still, my addiction would be satisfied and I’d get to watch a new team play. Having never witness Paksi play in the flesh before I was intrigued to see how they would fare against an MTK side whom I consider to be, on their day, one of the more entertaining sides to watch in the league.

As I made my way down the Number 1 Tram line to the Hidegkuti Nandor Stadion I began to get the feeling that I wasn’t the only one looking forward to the return of the NB1 as the tram thronged with people, all surely going my way. Unfortunately not, as the majority of my fellow travellers got off two stops early at Puskas Ferenc Stadion; clearly, they’d missed the memo that the league was starting back early.

By the time I arrived at the stadium, half-an-hour before kick-off, I was the only one to get off the tram and cross the tracks to the stadium forecourt where I was more than slightly disappointed not to see a larger gathering of fans hovering around, soaking up the last of the pre-match atmosphere. I was now beginning to think maybe I was the only one who wanted to be here.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. I was soon joined by my friend Gabor, who I’d agreed to meet at the ground, and several of his work colleagues who had also come along to enjoy the thrills and spills of the NB1.

Tickets bought, we entered the ground and, as you do, went straight to the bar for a cold pint of Arany Aszok; perfect for warming the cockles on a freezing cold February afternoon, and off to our seats we went.  Even now, two years into life in Hungary, the novelty of taking a pint out to my seat to enjoy whilst watching the game has still yet to wear off.  Thanks to the riots following the 1980 Scottish Cup Final, and football fans being treated like second-class citizens, alcohol is still banned from Scottish football stadia.

Pint in hand, and one eye on Gedeon Goose the MTK mascot, I sat down to enjoy the game and immediately felt a pang of solidarity towards Paksi as they performed a pre-match huddle; being a Celtic fan, I’m a sucker for a huddle especially if the team doing it is wearing green.

From the get-go, both teams impressed with their willingness to try to keep the ball on the deck as much as possible and play a passing game. However, it was the away side who looked more confident in possession, putting together several decent moves only to see them fall apart at the final ball.

MTK huffed and puffed for most of the half without ever really finding their rhythm and veteran striker Sandor Torghelle cut an increasingly forlorn figure as the half wore on, despite his best efforts at getting involved in the game.

With half-time approaching Paks finally made one of their passing moves count, and boy was it worth the wait. After picking up on a second ball about 25 yards from goal, the Paks attack combined with a series of quick passes to waltz in behind the MTK defence. Artem Kychak, in the MTK goal, advanced to block the first shot but as the ball looped away towards the edge of the penalty area, he was left helpless as Mohammed Remili reacted quickest to score stunning overhead-kick. Somewhere in the world, Zlatan smiled and approved of this most outrageous of goals.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hmI7z1r6mA

The second 45 followed a similar pattern to the first. Lots of industry, both teams trying to play football, but, ultimately, a lack of any end product resulted in the game becoming a war of attrition in the midfield.

Again, it was Paksi who showed most promise with Remili pulling the strings going forward. Indeed, it was from his beautiful near post corner delivery that Janos Szabo flicked home the visitors second of the game in the 76th minute. Three minutes later and it ought to have been game over as Janos Hahn blazed high and wide when clean through on goal following a defensive error from MTK.

Finally, with the game all but out of reach, MTK upped their tempo and began to threaten the Paks goal. With five minutes left to play the hosts finally gave their supporters something to cheer as Istvan Bognar’s crossed sailed over Gergely Nagy and into the net, ala Ronaldinho versus England all those years ago.

Alas, however, there was to be no further samba flair or carnival finish for MTK as Paks withstood a late onslaught to hold on to a deserved 2-1 away win. In the process, they impressed me with their organisation and determination to play a passing game.

As for Gedeon Goose, he barely flapped a wing the entire game and was a bit of let down. He, like the majority of the 1,300 strong crowds left disappointed, feeling that MTK could have offered so much more than they did.

Somehow, I expected more from MTK's wing man.

I left for the pub to watch Ireland take on England at the egg-chasing, sorry, rugby; I too would end my night disappointed. But I did get to see Henry Cavill, Superman himself, so you know, swings-and-round-a-bouts.

And for those interested in the Budapest Derby, it finished 1-0 to Ferencvaros, who remain 6 points clear at the summit.  But there were no worldies like Remili's strike.


Hungarian Digital Football Benchmark Report

Over the past decade or so, the way in which we consume
football has changed thanks, in part, to a rise in social media use that has
helped to feed our ever growing appetite for the latest football news and
gossip. The likes of Twitter and Facebook offer clubs and other media outlets a
platform to provide up to the minute, minute-by-the-minute news on our
favourite clubs.

According to EU data, Hungary has the highest social network
usage in the EU with Facebook being the most popular platform on which to
connect[1].

While Hungarian clubs may no longer rank amongst the biggest
in Europe, they are – slowly – catching on to the use of social media as a
means of engaging with fans, local and global, with most clubs now having a
social media presence. 

The Hungarian Digital Benchmark Report aims to gauge the performance of the current NB1 clubs on their digital presence. The report focuses on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and provide some insights into who is leading the Digital game in Hungary.

It will come as a surprise to few to see Ferencvaros lead the way in terms of number of online followers with a combined following of 277,672 (as at 31st December, 2018). So great is Ferencvaros' oonline following that is greater than the cumulative total of the next four clubs – Vidi, Diosgyor, Debrecen, and Ujpest.

Despite Ferencvaros dwarfing the local competition, their Digital Community pales into insignificance when placed on a global picture. Toulouse, ranked 198th in Digital Sports Media’s Global Digital Football Benchmark (Summer 2018 Edition), recorded over 1 million Digital followers, nearly four times that of Fradi[1].  However, this figure includes circa 147,000 followers of platforms not included in the Hungarian Digital Football Benchmark.  Still, it highlights that there is work to be done to improve the online visibility of Hungarian football.

In line with the data reported by the EU, Facebook is the
platform where most fans connect with Hungarian clubs.  The majority following of all 12 NB1 clubs
Digital Community comes via Facebook, followed by Instagram for all clubs
except MTK.  Twitter is currently the
least popular platform on which to connect; Paksi have less than 100 followers
on Twitter and Kisvarda have yet to set up an account and join the Twitter
revolution, further promoting the case that more needs to be done in developing
this area of the game in Hungary.

 At present, only MOL
Vidi have an English language social media platform – follower numbers not
included in this report – which identifies a further area of potential growth
for Hungarian football clubs online presence.

Should you wish to follow your favourite Hungarian club
online, and can speak the language, then the Hungarian Digital Football
Directory should help you find your club:

All follower numbers correct as of 31st December, 2018.


[1] http://digitale-sport-medien.com/global-digital-football-benchmark-summer-2018/


[1] https://bbj.hu/culture/hungarys-social-network-usage-highest-in-eu_135783


2018 Hungarian Football Review

Hungarian football may
no longer be at the pinnacle of the world game as it once was in the era of
Puskas, Kocsis, and the Aranycsapat (Golden Team) however 2018 has seen a
mini-resurgence in the national game, and the restoration of some much-needed
pride.

Sure, it’s been a mixed year of highs – MOL Vidi’s European
adventure – and lows – Georges Leekens reign as national team manager – but, in
reflection, the good times just about outnumber the bad as Hungarian football
seeks to reclaim its lost mojo.

With the year coming to a close and the Nemzeti Bajnoksag 1
(NB1) taking a few weeks off for its annual winter hibernation, what better time
to take a look back at the last 12 months of Hungarian football.

NB1

At the winter break, it is perennial pre-season title favourites Ferencvaros who lead the way holding a 5 point advantage over last season’s Champions MOL Vidi.  However, the Budapest side has not had things all their own way and missed out on a chance to open up a potentially insurmountable 11 point lead at the half-way stage, losing to MOL Vidi in the final game before the winter shutdown.  The side from Szekesfehervar clearly not prepared to give up their title without a fight. In the football betting odds though, it's Fradi who are still overwhelming favourites at 1/7.

Talking of previous Champions, Budapest Honved, NB 1 winners
in 2016/17 and home to ex-Hibs goalkeeper and friend of this site David Grof,
are currently 10 points off the pace occupying a respectable fourth place in
the standings.  Despite the loss of star
strikers David Lanzafame (Ferencvaros) and Marton Eppel (Kairat) in the summer,
and being forced to play home games at MTK’s Nandor Hidegkuti Stadion while
their own Bozsik Stadion is under reconstruction, Honved made a strong start to
the campaign matching Ferencvaros over the opening rounds before slowly
slipping down the table.  With the clubs
reluctance to spend money on transfer fee’s it is unlikely that Honved will claw
back the deficit in the second half of the season, but under Attila Supka’s
guidance, they should have enough about them to maintain a strong challenge for
a European place.

Fradi are looking strong this season but can they see off the challenge of Vidi to claim a first title since 2015/16?

As for the other capital sides in the top flight, Ujpest and
newly promoted MTK are both within touching distance of Honved, sitting in 5th
and 6th place respectively; the latter having attracted praise for their
efforts to play an open and attacking game whenever possible.

At the foot of the table things are looking bleak for
Haladas, home of cult hero and jogging pants wearing ‘keeper Gabor Kiraly, as
the men from Szombathely are rooted to the foot of the table having accumulated
a measly 9 points from their opening 18 games; 7 points behind early season
whipping boys Kisvarda and 8 from safety.

The second half of the season resumes in February with a
no-love-lost local derby between Ferencvaros and Budapest Honved at the
Groupama Arena.  It promises to be an
explosive affair and one that will set the scene for an exciting and entertaining
business end of the NB 1 season.

European Adventures

European football has been a bit of sick joke for Hungarian
clubs in recent years with very few success stories to boast of.  Mercifully, 2018 has a slightly different
story to tell thanks to progress made by MOL Vidi in particular. 

Vidi advanced to the Play-Off round in Champions League
Qualifying before succumbing to AEK Athens, the scourge of Celtic in the
previous round.  However, this allowed
Vidi to drop into the Europa League where they put up two memorable
performances against Chelsea and narrowly missed out on progression to the
knockout rounds.  Thanks to MOL Vidi, a
certain degree of respect has now been returned to the Hungarian game.

MOL Vidi surprised many with their heroic European campaign and provided Hungarian football with its biggest highlight of 2018
Photo: Molvidi.hu

Elsewhere, Ferencvaros once again failed to make any headway
in the Europa League, falling to Maccabi Tel Aviv at the first hurdle, a result
that ultimately cost coach Thomas Doll his job; the East German being replaced
by former Spurs forward Serhi Rebrov in August.

Honved and Ujpest, also competing the Europa League
Qualifiers , both fell at the Second Qualifying stage; Honved to surprise
package Progres from Luxembourg and Ujpest to the might of Sevilla.

However, thanks to the battling performances of MOL Vidi, a
semblance of pride has been restored to Hungarian football at European level.

Nemzeti Tizenegy

The national team struggled for both form and identity
during the ill-fated reign of Belgian Georges Leekens who won none of his four
games in charge and whose tactics, or lack thereof, led to main goal threat
Nemanja Nikolics quitting the national team.

In June the decision was taken to relieve Leekens of his
responsibilities as national team manager with the popular Italian Marco Rossi
installed in the hot seat; Rossi had previously led Honved to their 2016/17
title success and had been the fans choice to replace Bernd Storck before
Leekens appointment in 2017.

Marco Rossi has returned to Hungarian football as manager of the National Team; is he the man to return the glory days?

Rossi has overseen an upturn in results and performances
since his appointment, recording 3 wins and a draw in his 6 games in charge so
far, and guiding the Magyars to second place in their Nations League
group.  Hungary ended the campaign with
two solid 2-0 victories against Estonia and group winners Finland and
expectation levels are beginning to rise once again ahead of the 2020 European
Championship Qualifiers.

2019

Who knows what the next 12 months will have in store for Hungarian football, but while it doesn’t have the glamorous appeal of Europe’s big leagues, you can rest assured that there will seldom be a dull moment.


MOL Vidi - Champions League Play-Off Preview

Just like the seemingly never-ending scorching Hungarian summer, MOL Vidi’s European adventure is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.  Just two games and 180 minutes of football against AEK Athens of Greece stand between Vidi and an historic first appearance in the Champions League Group Stage.  Even if the men from Székesfehérvár should falter at the final hurdle, a first appearance in the Europa League Group Stage since 2012/13 will be a most welcome consolation prize for a side given little hope of making a major impact in Europe this season.

AEK Athens: Conquerors of Celtic

Standing in the way of Vidi and a date with the Champions League is AEK Athens, conquerors of Celtic in the previous round (much to my eternal dismay).

Unlike Videoton, who have had to traverse three qualifiers to get to this stage, Athens only entered at the Third Qualifying Round due to Greece’s far superior co-efficient ranking in comparison to that of Hungary.  In the current UEFA club rankings, Athens is ranked 94th whereas Videoton comes in at a lowly 141st.   On paper, this looks like the end of the road for Vidi, but thankfully football is not played on paper – something that Athens themselves can be thankful for having dispatched of a Celtic side ranked 47 places above them in the current listings last time out.

But can Videoton really do it?  Can they reach the promised land of gold and riches that is the Champions League?  Can they succeed where Celtic failed and find AEK’s Achilles Heel and defeat the Greeks?

Quite simply, Yes!  It won’t be easy, then again Hungarian’s don’t like the easy option, but Videoton most certainly has it within them to create an upset.

Sitting Back and Upsetting the Odds

Having watched both legs against Celtic it is clear that Athens strength lies in their defensive organisation and compactness.  For the best part of both games they quite happily allowed Celtic to dominate possession, passing left and right, backward and forwards, but very rarely penetrating through the Athens defence.  That Celtic mustered 35 shots at goal over the two games tells one side of the story, the other is that very few of these shots came from clear goal scoring opportunities.

What Athens did extremely well, especially at Parkhead, was to stifle Celtic’s attacking threat and force the Hoops to play at a slower, more laborious tempo than they would have liked.  While a lot of Celtic’s threat comes from the wide areas, the middle of the pitch was so congested with Athens players that there were precious few paths to goal for Celtic.  And when they did break through they generally met with stubborn resistance in Vasilis Barkas in the Athens goal.

So far, not so promising for Vidi.

However, as strange as it may seem, Celtic were probably the ideal opposition for AEK.  Celtic play a possession-based game, they like to attack and stretch their opponents, but they also lack real creative dynamism when things are not going their way and therefore tend to be rather predictable at times.  All of which played into the hands of an AEK Athens side who are happiest when sitting back and hitting on the counter.

Despite scoring three goals, Athens did not cause Celtic too many problems going forward and looked devoid of creativity themselves for the most part.  Instead, they played on Celtic’s weakness in the right back and centre half departments, and made Celtic pay for their deficiencies.  On the whole, they were not a side that made you sit up and take notice of their attacking play.  They simply executed a game plan perfectly; which is exactly what Vidi will need to do if they are to progress.

While Celtic and their style may have been ideally suited to AEK Athens, Videoton and their more pragmatic approach in European competition provide an altogether different proposition for the Greeks.  And being favourites for the tie will add an extra dimension of pressure and expectation.

Defence is Key

Videoton will approach the game as underdogs and Nikolics will more than likely ask his men to contain the Greeks in a war of attrition.  The Serb is wise enough not to risk committing too many men to attacking situations in the first-leg, despite being the home side, and I would fully expect Vidi to turn the tables on Athens and encourage the visitors to bring the game to them, while looking to hit on the counter.

Given the scares of the previous rounds, sitting back and relying on the defence to get them through may seem like a disaster waiting to happen, but Athens attacking threat against Celtic was pin-pointed against the Hoops frailties, not their own abilities.  If the Vidi defence can return to its normal reliable, well-organised self, then they have a real chance of nullifying Athens and getting a positive result.

As we are all aware, Lazovic and the Scepovic brothers are all capable of goals at this level.  The biggest issue for Vidi is finding the key to unlock the AEK defence, however, if the Greeks are tempted into a more offensive approach there may well be gaps to take advantage of.

On Monday evening Budapest came to standstill as 250,000 revelers crowded the Rakaprt to celebrate the birth-day of the nation.  The finale of the evening was an exhilarating green, white, and red fireworks display; Vidi will be hoping that they can provide Hungarian football with some much-needed fireworks starting tomorrow night as they look to take the final steps to European glory.