Since the 1970s, Hungary has been a diminishing force in the world of soccer, failing to compete in major tournaments. In the mid-20th century, the Magyars were a significant power in the game, finishing as runners-up in the FIFA World Cup on two occasions pre and post-World War Two. They also finished in third and fourth place in the European Championships in 1964 and 1972 respectively. Hungary also claimed three Olympic gold medals along with a silver and bronze between the 1952 and 1972 games.
Ferenc Puskás is arguably the most potent striker to have graced the field. However, Hungary had a production line of talent, including Sandor Kocsis, Lajos Tichy, Ferenc Bene, Nandor Hidegkuti, and Florian Albert, that allowed the country to remain at the top of the game for a significant period.
In the last 40 years, Hungary has not been able to sustain their levels of excellence. The talent emerging through the ranks has lacked the quality of past generations. As a result, Magyars have failed to qualify for the World Cup since 1986 and have competed in the European Championships only once since 1972. There are signs that Hungary is beginning to cultivate talent once more, but there is a long road ahead to become the outfit that was the envy of teams across the globe.
Signs of Encouragement
Hungary was pitted in Nations League C in the inaugural tournament against Greece, Finland, and Estonia in Group 2. Marco Rossi’s men were able to string together a promotion campaign to elevate themselves into Nations League B for the new campaign.
They saved their best performance until last on home soil, overcoming group leaders Finland by a 2-0 margin courtesy of goals from Adam Szalai and Adam Nagy. Since their promotion they have been excellent in Nations League B Group 3, defeating Turkey and Serbia, while only narrowly losing out to Russia on home soil. Rossi certainly has his side punching above their weight, however, they are still viewed as major underdogs as bookmakers like Betway have them at 151.00 to win Euro 2020. Ultimately, while there are signs that the team may be building momentum, the question as to how far this will take them is yet to be answered.
🇭🇺 Hungary at EURO 2016 = qualifying play-off win ➡️ Round of 16 ✅— UEFA EURO 2020 (@EURO2020) November 8, 2020
🤔 Which other nation achieved this at the same competition? pic.twitter.com/GKp9sHS8bl
It’s a testament to solid coaching from Rossi, who has been extremely impressive since taking the reins in 2018, including a statement win over Bulgaria and Iceland in their Euro 2020 playoff-contest on the road. Hungary does not have a team of all-stars as they did in their heyday, but Rossi has the team well drilled and clinical against opponents of a similar caliber, lifting the Magyars back inside the top 50 in the FIFA World Rankings. However, it’s clear they need to improve the levels of their talent to mix it with the best outfits in the world once again.
Players with Potential
Captain Ádám Szalai has flown the flag for Hungary in European football due to his exploits in the Bundesliga for Mainz, Hoffenheim, and Schalke. The 32-year-old has been a solid operator for over 10 years at the club and international level, but the Magyars need a new star to take on the mantle to lead Hungary’s next generation.
Willi Orban has fared well during his career with RB Leipzig, leading the club into the Bundesliga and the Champions League. The 28-year-old is a good leader on the field and a stout defender. He seemingly is the man to take on the armband from Szalai after making his debut five years ago, although the defender does not possess the flair needed to capture the attention of the nation.
Dominik Szoboszlai appears to have the talent to become a superstar at the club and international level. He has already been a match-winner, scoring the decisive strike for Hungary in their win over Turkey in the Nations League with a stunning free-kick. The 20-year-old has already become a key cog in Rossi’s side, while he is also a regular at Red Bull Salzburg. He could well follow in the path of Erling Haaland or Sadio Mane to earn a move to a major European league – Arsenal are reportedly keeping tabs on his progress.
It would certainly put Hungarian football back on the map. Szoboszlai has the perfect attributes for an attacking midfielder, displaying skill and guile on the ball. He is also fiercely built at 6ft 1in, ensuring that he will not be bullied. There is plenty of scope for improvement, but he could be the best player that has emerged from Hungary in a long time.
Hungary’s status as a footballing nation has been on the decline, but there are signs that they could be slowly making their way back up the totem pole.