It is hard to reconcile the euphoria that swept over Hungary during the summer of 2016 with the international team’s record of one win in eight going into this game.
For those of you that missed the summer’s happenings, the Hungarian national football team qualified for their first major tournament since 1986 after beating Norway over two legs in a qualification play-off. The mood going into the tournament was a strange mixture of excitement, hope and that most Hungarian of emotions, pessimism. That pessimism was thrown aside for two weeks following on from Hungary’s disciplined and deserved two-nil victory of imperial neighbours, Austria. I was lucky enough to be in Budapest when that game was on and swept up in the outpouring of joy that is so unusual on the faces of Hungarians. It was beautiful. Draws against Iceland and Portugal before crushing elimination by the Belgians did little to dampen the party. Was this finally the new dawn of Hungarian football?
Hungary’s World Cup qualifying group is an interesting one. Firstly, gone is the possibility of qualifying from third place. Secondly, Hungary have two teams in their group that are ostensibly better than they are in Switzerland and Portugal. Thirdly, the other teams in the group, Andorra, the Faroe Islands and Latvia would appear to be there to fill up the numbers with little expectation that they will take points off the big boys.
Combining this interesting group with the possibility of a new dawn of Hungarian football and what do you get? A 0-0 draw with the Faroe Islands shortly followed by the dull thud of the Hungarian optimism returning to the floor. Pff.
It seems silly to talk about ‘must win’ games after only one game of a qualification tournament, but this might just be one of those. Switzerland are arguably more likely than Portugal to let Hungary slip above them so after the draw in Torshavn, it would appear crucial to get one over Switzerland and try to avoid the need to beat Portugal or win in the shadow of the Alps next year.
Luckily, I have a ticket for this sell-out having purchased a ‘season ticket’ for all five of Hugnary’s home qualifying matches at the reasonable price of HUF 20,000 (GBP 60 today – GBP 40 by Christmas J).
So off I go to temporary home of the national team, Ulloi uti Stadium for some Friday night football action.
When Hungarian games are well supported, there always seems to be an air of menace around the ground. I think it might just be the animalistic cries of ‘Ria, Ria, Hungaria’ that do it for me combined this evening with the fact that everyone was getting stuck into the opportunities to drink that a Friday 20.45 kick-off brings. Throw in the considerable construction works going on next door and it was a pretty odd sensation as I traversed the ground to join the enormous queue to enter. This enormous queue also doubles up as a place to knock back some more booze before entering the dry zone that is international football. This is where I would like to introduce my ‘new’ concept. Whereas street food has spread like wildfire around the world despite the fact it is just food that you pay the same price for, with less choice and without a table – how about the street beer concept? I have long enjoyed a walking beer so why not extend that concept. We just sell cans of beer on the street and we say that it harks back to the purity of drinking. But I digress…(feel free to use the idea)
The atmosphere inside was pretty good. The Hungarian anthem is never particularly raucous, but this was not bad and the fans did their best to get behind the team. The first half was somewhat of a stalemate although I was impressed with the Paul Pogba-ness of Switzerland’s Embolo. One minute he looked amazing and the next minute he looked terrible. The game only really woke up in the second 45 minutes and the game’s only goals were to come in the second period.
Switzerland scored first with Adam Lang gifting the ball to the Swiss striker whose shot was saved by Gulacsi (Kiraly is gone, long love Kiraly) who could do nothing as the ball was slotted home on the follow-up. Szalai Adam equalized shortly after as he firstly deflected the ball against the post from where it fell back to him to tap in to an empty net. This man is prolific against non-titular German speaking nations – less so against anyone else. Switzerland took the lead again as a fine left foot volley from an angle rocked the home fans who had forgotten about Szalai’s imperious form against non-German Germans and he bundled the ball home with the back of his head. Even Szalai could not save the Hungarians from their naïve/terrible/holier than a Swiss cheese defending. A throw-in in the last minute found its way to the unmarked left winger (forgive me for not remembering looking up names) who slotted home via a deflection and the wrong-footed
Kiraly Gulacsi. And 3-2 to the Swiss, it finished.
For a five goal game, I struggled to really get involved possibly alienated by the fairly dreadful first half and then the tiredness that hit me in the second.
Hungary have an uphill battle from here. To finish above, Switzerland they will probably need some other teams to do them a favour and possibly get a favourable (two goal or more) reverse when they head to the banking centre of Europe. Alternatively, they will need to take four points off Portugal (and probably need some other teams to do them a favour).
A good, if unconvincing, victory away in Riga a few day’s later finally gets Hungary out of the starting blocks, but you feel that their race may already be won. Will we be waiting another 30 years for Hungary to see a major tournament?
Once upon a time in Latvia…
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