An Optimistic Hungarian

Written by Tomasz Mortimer for InBedWithMaradona in November 2010

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the Hungarian National team during 2010. The ever-improving Magyars ended the year second in the Euro 2012 qualifying group behind World Cup finalists Holland, and with encouraging results and performances against respectable opposition, the optimism continues to build.

At the beginning of 2010, the Hungarian national team were down in the dumps. Three losses in their remaining four World Cup qualifiers dashed any hopes Hungary had of qualifying for their first major tournament since 1986, leaving manager Erwin Koeman sweating over his job.

Things didn’t get much better for Koeman and his boys. Defeats to Germany and Holland – 0-3 and 1-6 respectively – after drawing to a youthful Russian side at home, left players and fans wishing for the manager’s head. And in July, Hungary captain Gera and co got their wish.

Sandor Egervari was appointed the Dutchman’s replacement. Just last year, the former MTK boss steered a Hungarian side to the bronze medal at the Under 20 World Cup. Clearly, the MLSZ (The Hungarian Football Federation) had little choice but to task this man with the job of giving Hungarian football fans something to smile about again.

Egervari immediately gained respect from the players. Many recognised what a brilliant job he did with the Under 20s and several had worked under him in Hungarian club football. However, Egervari took a different approach to what many expected. It was thought the new national coach would draft in youngsters from his previous job like Krisztian Nemeth, Zsolt Korcsmar, Peter Gulacsi among others, but Egervari opted to only to call up only one player from that team, Vladimir Koman, who scored six goals in the Under 20 World Cup from midfield.

Many fans felt aggrieved with this decision, and called for younger players to be called up along with the likes of Zoltan Stieber and Adam Bogdan. However, a strong display against a lackluster England side, brought hope to the Magyar supporters, with Vladimir Koman being involved in the controversial Hungarian goal. And if it wasn’t for two strokes of genius from captain Steven Gerrard, Hungary could have walked out of Wembley with another win under their belts.

The next game however was a cause for concern. An extremely poor performance away to Sweden, resulting in a 2-0 loss, left the fans, media and players thinking it could be another long qualification period ahead. The next game wasn’t convincing either. A 2-1 win at home to Moldova thanks to strikes from Serie A regulars, Gergely Rudolf and Vladimir Koman. Had the MLSZ got it wrong in appointing Egervari? However poor the display was from the Hungarians, it seemed to bring a lot of confidence to the players, and they certainly showed this in the next qualifying game, an 8-0 win over lowly San Marino. Yes, I know it’s only San Marino, but an 8-0 win is a great result whomever you’re playing, and for Adam Szalai to get a hat-trick in only his fourth cap is a great achievement. This was great preparation for probably the biggest game of the season, and certainly the most exciting.

Hungary travelled to Helsinki to take on Finland in a Euro 2012 six pointer. For Hungary it really was a must win if they were to stand any chance of qualifying – even if it was after just 3 games. In the early stages of the match, Hungary were abject and couldn’t string a pass together, but managed to get to half-time at 0-0. In truth, Finland weren’t much better but they tested Gabor Kiraly on a few occasions, certainly more than Hungary tested Jussi Jääskeläinen. In the second half, Hungary suddenly came to life, largely due to the introduction of Sampdoria’s Vladimir Koman. After just five minutes of being on the field, Koman threaded a Xavi like pass to Adam Szalai, who rounded the Bolton keeper and slotted into an empty net. 1-0 to Hungary. The dream is still alive.

Hungary started to grow into the game, the confidence was brewing and it looked like they believed they could go on and win. Kiraly made a couple of good saves, but so did Jääskeläinen. Then came the killer blow. With just 2 minutes of normal time remaining, the Finns equalised. A terrific ball over the defence by Eremenko landed in Forsell’s path and he finished the one-on-one as everyone knew he would. Hungarian hearts were broken. And there was still time for a Finnish winner.

Jari Litmanen (Yes, he’s still alive), began to dictate, and the intent was there for all to see. Finland were going for the win. Wave after wave of Finnish attack bombarded the Hungarian goal for six whole minutes that felt like sixty. Kiraly made one great save, and Szalai missed a superb chance to win it for Hungary in the 94th minute. His missed opportunity left one last attack available for Finland. The ball was pumped long, it fell to Eremenko who played it to Litmanen on the left but Akos Elek of Hungary picked it up on the edge of his own area. With the clock ticking, Elek ran with the ball, he ran a bit further, and a bit further until he reached the edge of the Finnish box. He found the right pass and Dzsudzsak was there. In front of goal.

The 2010 Hungarian Golden Ball winner had a chance to win the match for Hungary. He took a touch, kept his head down and powered the ball straight past Jääskeläinen. The net bulged. I dropped my laptop. Magyars screamed. Hungary had done it. They’d beaten Finland.

I may have just have talked about that game like Hungary had won the World Cup, but it really felt like they had. It was a superb win and in previous years, Hungary would have folded and lost that match by two or three goals. But the passion was for all to see. The true grit and determination was fantastic. A comfortable 2-0 friendly win over Lithuania a few weeks later left the national team ending the year on a high after the depression of just 12 months earlier.

So 2010 was a great year. We may have started badly, but friendlies don’t matter. The Hungarian players now seem to care about their national team once more, and if they can keep that under Egervari for the rest of the qualifying campaign, maybe, just maybe, we could see them in Poland and Ukraine. Fingers crossed.

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