To people of a certain age, Hungary’s name recalls memories – or at least tales – of the wonderful Ferenc Puskas-inspired side from the 1950s. The modern-day truth is rather more prosaic but they arrive at their first major tournament since 1986 – and their first European Championship since back in 1972 – feeling confident after coming through the play-offs and, with little seriously expected of them back home, could yet cause a surprise. If nothing else, it is a major boost for a former power whose footballing development had stalled badly – and should set them fair to improve over the next few years.
THE BIG QUESTION
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Hungary's players celebrate after winning the match.
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Can Hungary do more than make up the numbers? On paper they are probably the weakest team in the tournament and there is little to suggest that, despite their expertly-worked play-off win over Norway, they can upset any of the bigger sides. But Hungary will not feel cowed by the group they have been handed and will believe that their second match, against Iceland, could be decisive in the battle for third place. This might, though, have to be a summer in which they content themselves with having enjoyed a fresh taste of the big time before the World Cup qualifiers begin.
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Hungary’s deep midfield pairing will blend young and old, Adam Nagy partnering the 37-year-old Zoltan Gera, who is still going strong with Ferencvaros. Laszlo Kleinheisler could be a surprise package in a more attacking role; he only made his debut in the play-off at Norway, having barely featured for club Videoton, and promptly scored the winner – earning himself a move to Werder Bremen. His spark might help put Hungary on the front foot but there is a lack of potency in front of him even if the experienced Tamas Priskin, who is an option to start ahead of Adam Szalai, has a decent record.
THE MANAGER: BERND STORCK
Hungary's coach Bernd Storck reacts before the match
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Storck enjoyed considerable success in a short period of time, taking the Hungary job as recently as July 2015 after Pal Dardai left for Hertha Berlin. Storck, a German who previously managed Kazakhstan, guided the team to draws with Northern Ireland and arch-rivals Romania in his first two games and later, with the play-offs looming, caused surprise by overhauling his coaching staff to include – among others – the Euro ’96 winner Andreas Moller. It seemed a gamble, but it paid off handsomely and the 53-year-old now leads the team to the promised land of a major tournament.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Hungary's Balasz Dzsudzsak reacts
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Balasz Dzsudzsak: Undoubtedly the man on whom Hungarian hopes rest, Dzsudzsak is an energetic, skilful wide player who captains the side and these days plays in Turkey for Bursaspor. His end product can vary but he has a fine record for his country.
Adam Nagy: Relatively unknown until he made his full debut last year, the 20-year-old Ferencvaros man is a highly promising defensive midfielder and will probably start in France. A move to a bigger league surely beckons.
Gabor Kiraly: Kiraly has had a remarkable career and, at 40, will become the oldest player to appear at a European Championship finals this summer. The goalkeeper won his 102nd cap in the recent friendly draw with Ivory Coast and, although once a much-loved figure at Crystal Palace, now plays domestically with Haladas.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
The former Liverpool forward Krisztian Nemeth is one of few Hungary first-choices to be active on Twitter; the pickings are still fairly slim but he does, at least, update his feed quite regularly.
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Storck seemed to come upon his formation for the play-offs against Norway almost by chance. The tight shape worked, though, with Dzsudzsak offering craft from wide areas and the combustible Kleinheisler a blur of energy breaking forward from a central midfield position.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Hungary were not dealt the most difficult of hands in the form of a drab Group F and their performances in the play-off with Norway drew more attention than anything that happened in the previous 10 games. They did perform respectably in coming third, recovering from a home defeat to group winners Northern Ireland on the opening matchday to finish four points ahead of Finland. But they were excellent by any measure against the Norwegians, earning an intelligent single-goal win in Oslo before prevailing 2-1 on raucous night in Budapest – a stunning Priskin strike setting them on their way.
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