Qualifying campaign saw three managers but still could reach France with victory over Norway
12 November ~ “These are Norway's most important matches for ten years,” said Stromsgodset striker Marcus Pedersen before the Euro 2016 play-off games against Hungary. Their opponents, however, have been searching vainly for any kind of football success for 30 years.
Hungary haven’t qualified for any major tournament since 1986, and most supporters would be deeply grateful to be able to forget the 6-0 trashing from the Soviet Union at that tournament. Only once since then has the team had a chance to reach a major finals, when they met the former Yugoslavia in the play-offs for France 98 and were beaten 12-1 on aggregate.
Hungary were one of the potential beneficiaries of the extension of the Euro finals to the farcical 24 participants, but seemed to have blown their chance early on when they lost at home to Northern Ireland in their first match. Newly appointed coach Attila Pinter, who had won two domestic league titles with Ferencvaros and Gyor, had to step down immediately.
The football federation then took the risky step of appointing former international Pal Dardai. He had played 61 times for the national team but was working as the under-15 coach at Hertha Berlin, a job he continued to do on a part-time basis. Nonetheless, Dardai turned the fortunes of the team after drawing 1-1 in Bucharest. His formidable but almost unwatchable defensive approach resulted in just that one goal conceded in five games.
In July, the suddenly popular Dardai was brought back to Berlin to work full-time, having successfully filled in for sacked first-team coach Jos Luhukay. With only four games left in the qualifiers, the federation officials made another surprise appointment in Bernd Storck, the sporting director of the Hungarian FA and former Hertha scout – and the man who took Dardai to Berlin as a player in 1997. In what was surely the weakest qualifying group, Hungary almost made it directly to France, only narrowly missing the best third-place spot to Turkey.
The team were seeded in the playoffs but expectations are low among the once football-mad but now apathetic Hungarian public. The squad does not feature anyone playing regularly in one of the top five European leagues (Zoltan Stieber and Adam Szalai are both reserves at Hamburg and Hoffenheim respectively).
The only three squad members with any reputation are the keeper Gabor Kiraly (formerly of Crystal Palace and Fulham among others), another ex-Fulham player in midfielder Zoltan Gera, now with Ferencvaros, and the winger Balazs Dzsudzsak of Bursaspor. The trio have 257 caps between them and a combined age of 103.
There has been some unexpected drama recently, with Storck firing almost the whole coaching staff brought in by Dardai, appointing a new assistant in Andy Moller (whose reputation as a coach is the complete reverse of his world-class status as a player) and dropping QPR’s Daniel Tozser from the squad.
Much is at stake for the coach, and for a team with no experience of victories in key matches. Federation head Sandor Csanyi (the richest man of the country) has a lot to lose, having promised to take the national team to the Euros. So too does prime minister Viktor Orban, whose regime has spent tens of millions of pounds on football infrastructure since 2010, to the outrage of the vast majority of the public. Botond Csepregi