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.

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.


Unfortunate Hungary fall to Australia thanks to late own goal

In possibly the most bizarre ending to an International football match that I can recall, both Australia and Hungary exchanged own goals in the closing minutes to ensure that the visitors will head off to Russia 2018 in winning form after leaving the Groupama Arena with a narrow 2-1 victory.

In what was a fairly even contest throughout, the visitors opened the scoring through 19-year-old substitute Daniel Arzani in the 75 minute, just 2 minutes after his introduction to the game.   Arzani’s goal – his first for the Socceroo’s – owed a lot of thanks to a momentary lapse from fellow substitute Dénes Dibusz, that the latter will want to forget quickly, as he allowed a fairly tame curling effort from the young Australian to escape his reach and trickle into the home net.

Arzani’s goal looked like it would split the sides until both captain’s, Trent Sainsbury and Tamas Kadar, decided to liven up the closing stages with an own goal apiece to settle the game in Australia’s favour.

Going into the game, Hungary was looking for a confidence-boosting first win under new, and already under-fire, manager Georges Leekens following defeats to Kazakhstan and Scotland and the recent draw with Belarus.  Despite the previous poor results, the hosts began the game in a positive fashion with Roland Sallai providing a constant threat down the left-hand side.

As the half wore on Australia began to grow into the game and created several half-chances of their own with Leckie and Kruse combining well on a couple of occasions but without ever really troubling Gulacsi.

However, the majority of the opening exchanges provided a rather dull fare with both sides cancelling each other out, Kleinheisler and Vadocz, in particular, doing a stellar job at stopping any service reaching Australian talisman, Tom Rogic.

It wasn’t until after the half-hour mark that the game sparked into life with Adam Szalai missing a guilt-edged 1-on-1, and Laszlo Kleinheisler crashing the bar with a 25-yard effort for the hosts.  At the other end, both Mooy and  Kruse fired long-range efforts off target, before Tamas Kadar saw a 45th-minute header cleared off the line.

The second half started in a similar vein to the first, with both sides taking time to settle back into the game before the expected raft of substitutions started on the hour mark with Daniel Bode entering the fray to a hero’s welcome as he replaced Szalai up front.

Although both teams were creating half openings it was becoming increasingly likely that it would take a moment of inspiration or a costly mistake to open the scoring.  Unfortunately for Dibusz, it was the latter as he allowed Arzani’s effort to creep past him handing Australia the lead.

The loss of the opening goal appeared to suck the life out of an already fragile home team and their support with the players heads visibly looking down and being met by groans of expectant disappointment from the stands.

However, just as it looked like Australia would see the game out, Attila Fiola took it upon himself to go on a one-man mission and drag Hungary level.  On three consecutive occasions, the big Videoton defender read the play and stole in in-front of opponents to win the ball before finally dinking a cross into the penalty area where Australian captain Trent Sainsbury – who had been immense up to that point – inexplicably nodded the ball past his own keeper to level the scores.  Nothing less than Hungary deserved on balance of play.

Not to be outdone, however, Tamas Kadar, Hungary captain in the absence of Balazs Dzsudzsak, returned the own goal favour a few minutes later, diverting a cut back from Jackson Irvine through Dibusz’s legs to hand victory to Australia.

With Kadar’s own goal came an end to the action and the all too familiar taste of defeat for Hungary.  But unlike other recent games, there were signs of progress and positives that can be taken away.

In his post-match press conference, national manager Leekens spoke of his disappointment at the result, but also of his satisfaction of the overall performance, the first half in particular.  He highlighted the midfield as a key strength and was quick to praise the performance of Laszlo Kleinheisler.

On the first goal, Leekens was sympathetic towards his keeper Dibusz and even joked that it was better he made the mistake in a friendly and not a competitive fixture.

But Leekens is not a popular manager amongst the Hungarian press or fan base at large and, with another black mark against his name again today, faced the question “Have you thought about quitting given your lack of popularity?”  Leekens answer, a resounding “No!”

The Belgian see’s his as a long-term job of putting in place a strategy to take Hungary forward while acknowledging there may be backwards steps as he finds a balance between youth and experience, both at international and club level.

Whether he is given the time to see that through is another question entirely.


Scots on Top as Poor Hungary Have Little to Offer

On an evening of glamour International Friendly’s across the globe, Hungary welcomed Scotland to the Groupama Arena on Tuesday evening in the first meeting of the two countries since 2004.  On that occasion, a Lothar Mattheus coached Hungary thrashed Scotland by three goals to nil at Hampden Park, Glasgow.  However, the tables were turned on Tuesday as Scotland ran out one-nil victors on a cold Budapest night.

A solitary Matt Phillips strike shortly after the interval was enough to give Alex McLeish his first victory in his second spell as Scotland manager, and condemn the already unpopular Georges Leekens to a second successive home defeat in less than a week.

Both sides used the opening stages of the game to suss out their opposition, with both favouring a direct approach rather than trying to play football on the bobbly surface.  As the game progressed it was the Scots who coped better with the conditions and began introducing more passing movements into their game, with the midfield ultimately gaining a stranglehold.

Hungary, however, continued with their dour direct approach of lumping long balls towards target-man Szalai who, after sizing up Scotland's youthful and and inexperienced defensive duo of Hendry and McKenna in the early exchanges, seemed to fancy his chances more against the latter.  Unfortunately for Szalai and Hungary, on the precious few occasions that he was able to win the long ball and either flick it on or hold it up, there was rarely anyone in support to help out;  a feature of the game being the isolation of the Hungarian front man and lack of adequate support from his midfield runners.

For the most part, the first half was largely uneventful with neither side creating many chances of note bar one Dzsudzsak free kick for the hosts and a sclaffed effort by Forrest for the visitors.  That is until the 40th minute when Scotland was awarded a penalty after Ryan Fraser was bundled to the ground in the box.  Skipper Charlie Mulgrew took the responsibility of converting the spot-kick but his effort was well stopped by Peter Gulacsi, much to the delight of the home fans.

With the wind in their sails after the penalty save, Hungary looked more positive in the closing minutes of the half and almost broke the deadlock when a Richard Guzmics header was cleared off the line in the dying embers of the half.

However, Hungary’s revival was to be short-lived as Scotland, and Matt Phillips, scored the game’s only goal three minutes into the second half, firing home a low cross from the right by the diminutive Fraser.

From that moment on Scotland dominated the game.  McGregor, Armstrong, and McGinn won the midfield battle and started to control the tempo of the game; young defenders Hendry and McKenna grew as the game went on with Hendry, in particular, having an excellent game at the back.

Chances were at a premium as the game wore on and descended into the usual Friendly farce of substitutions which ultimately disrupted the flow of the game.

Despite this Hungary were afforded one final clear chance to level the scores when, in the 70th minute,  Szalai robbed Mulgrew of possession just outside the Scotland penalty area only to fluff his lines when clean through on goal with McGregor  coming off his line to deny the striker.

With the game petering out, and seemingly unable to think of a Plan B, Leekens replaced the largely immobile Szalai with the slightly more mobile Bode upfront.   In the end, though, Bode, an old-fashioned Mickey Quinn style bulldozer of a centre-forward, could do nothing to prevent Scotland from leaving with the win.

From a Scottish perspective, there were a number of positives to take from this game and signs that there may be some promising young players coming through at last.

For Hungary however, the signs are not so good.  From start to finish Hungary played with little purpose or positive aggression.  The game plan was to play it long, and if long didn’t work, then go longer.  There was no guile or cutting edge and unless Leekens can find a better solution to getting the best out of Dzsudzsak, Nikolics, and Co, then the immediate future for the Nemzeti Tizenegy is not a bright one.


Honved vs Videoton: Busting my Magyar Foci Cherry

Written by Kevin McCluskie

It’s been almost three months now since I moved out to Budapest and posed myself the question of which Budapest team I should follow now that I am here.  Choosing a football team to follow is not a decision to be taken lightly, especially for a foreigner living in a new city.

Upon moving to Budapest my initial leanings were probably towards Ferencvaros, Hungary’s biggest and most successful team, who just so happen to wear green and white like Celtic, my team.  But the more I thought about it the more I realised that this was taking the easy way out.  Perhaps one of the other Budapest clubs had a more appealing history, or values I could relate to.

Ujpest came highly recommended as a welcoming family centred club, and having watched some impressive footage of their fans on YouTube I was tempted to nail my colours to their mast.  Vasas also intrigued me by virtue of being the underdogs of the Budapest top-flight football fraternity; the smallest of the Budapest based clubs and least successful, yet a club with a strong working class tradition, something I can relate to.

DECIDING ON HONVED

However, it was the romance of Kispest Honved that eventually won me over.  Tales of Puskas and the great pre-Revolution team, the ‘World Tour of 56’ and invitations to play in the Mexican league, the subsequent post-Revolution decline of the club and the steady rebuilding over the last decade all seemed too much to resist.  Having met with Abel Lorincz, who works for Honved as a video analyst, in December of 2016, I was already acutely aware of the clubs history and following my own research I became hooked on the club.

I had also been hugely impressed with the pre match advertising I’d seen on billboards across the city and on LinkedIn, and saw Honved as a team that was trying to things a little bit differently from the Hungarian norm as they actively sought to promote the team and attract new fans.  It certainly worked on me and I quickly made up my mind that I had to attend a Honved game as soon as possible.

I’d scanned the fixture list for a local derby match I could take in as my first experience of Hungarian football in the flesh but instead happened to notice that matchday 33 had the potential to be a title decider between Honved, my newly adopted Hungarian team, and Videoton from Székesfehérvár.

What better game to bust my Magyar Foci cherry?

I then spent the next few weeks watching the results come in with mixed feelings, simultaneously hoping that Honved would stretch away at the top but also wanting Videoton to remain close enough to make the final game a title showdown.

After posting my ‘My Budapest Team’ post I was contacted by @Magyar_bmb on twitter (who may or may not have had a hand in my choosing Honved to be my team, depending on whose story you chose to believe) and together we put a plan in motion along with Mr Magyar Foci, Tomasz Mortimer, and DJ GabyG to meet up and attend the game together.  A plan, it must be said, that was helped in no small part by Honved ‘keeper David Groff, an ex-Hibee, who helped organise the tickets for us.

GAME DAY

After careful planning and organising we’d agreed to meet up at a restaurant before the game along with several other people that we all knew or ‘twitter’ knew.  Unfortunately, some of us (I’m looking at me here) were not so hot on our time keeping and missed the meal, not that big Gaby minded as that meant more food for him.

Our journey to the stadium was fairly straight forward and passed without incident, despite the cancellation of our tram service to the ground and spotting several armed Police officers at the Metro stations; Ferencvaros were hosting Ujpest on the same day and trouble was expected.

However, it all got a bit real as we approached the fan zone outside the stadium with Honved fans setting off flares and smoke bombs.  The atmosphere was electric and you sense that there was a mix of raw emotions in the air; excitement, nerves, unwavering certainty of victory and dread of defeat.  There was music blaring, fans chanting songs, and beer and palinkabeing drunk and spilt in equal measure as we made our way through the fan zone.  It was hard not to get swept away by it all.

Being Scottish, and not having had a pint for at least an hour, my mate I decided to hang around the fan zone and soak up the atmosphere (and beer) a bit longer than the others instead of collecting our tickets straights away.

Once we eventually made it in to collect our tickets we were passed from pillar to post until eventually finding reception and our tickets.  To our great excitement we discovered that in Hungary it is possible to buy alcohol inside a football stadium.  Not only that, but you can take it to your seat whilst watching the game.  Scottish football, are you listening?

THE GAME ITSELF

In all honesty, the game was not much of a spectacle, which, when you consider what was at stake is probably understandable.

Honved, the hosts, had not won a national title for 24 years and were playing at their Bozsik Jozsef Stadion for the last time while Videoton were looking to play the role of party poopers by coming from behind to clinch their third title of the decade.

Both sides had been evenly matched throughout the season, indeed, they went into the final match level on points.  It was therefore set up to be a war of attrition and so it proved with neither side finding their true rhythm and struggling with the basics for long spells.

The fans on the other hand were on top form, each trying to outdo the other with their chants, flares and smoke bombs helping to create a really entertaining atmosphere.

After a first half of few clear cut openings the first real talking point of the match came in the 54th minute when Vidi’s Danko Lazovic pulled off an Olympic standard gymnastic floor routine as he writhed around the ground in apparent agony after being floored under minimal contact.

However the moment we’d all come to see duly arrived just five minutes later when Márton Eppel turned in a cross from George Ikenne to seal the title for Honved.  Vidi tried manfully to find their way back into the game but they were met at every turn by heroic Honved defending.  The final whistle was met with an eruption of ecstasy from the home fans who, after a 24 year wait, had finally seen the League title come ‘home’.  Not even the news that manager Marco Rossi had quit in the aftermath of the game could dampen the spirits of the Honved fans as they celebrated in the fan zone long into the night.

I took it upon myself to join in and take heed of the words of the great Christy Moore in his song ‘Saint Patrick’s Dance in San Fernando’ as I “got drunk and had a right good time.”  It’s fair to say that my first experience of Hungarian football was a positive one.  However, I had a double, or should that be Treble, reason to celebrate that night as earlier in the day Celtic had defeated Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup Final to record an historic unbeaten domestic treble.