It’s been a long wait for supporters to see Hungary at a major tournament. The Magyars’ last World Cup appearance came in 1986, and it has been 44 years since their most recent participation in a European Championship. Being in France is already a success, then, especially as they had to beat Norway in the play-offs after Turkey pipped them to qualification as the best third-placed team.
Lesson from qualifying
You can’t lose if you don’t concede. Hungary kept five consecutive clean sheets, then another in the away leg of their play-off.
Team spirit is strong, forged by ex-coach Pal Dardai before he was replaced by Bernd Storck in July 2015. A lack of genuine star names contributes to a feeling of unity.
Hungary’s go-to guys are past their prime: Zoltan Gera is 37 now. Starlets such as Adam Nagy have big boots to fill.
Most likely to…
See their supporters wearing grey jogging bottoms in France, in tribute to former Crystal Palace goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly.
Least likely to…
Win the Euros with a German coach. Mind you, the same was said in 2004 about Otto Rehhagel’s Greece…
What they hope will happen
If they can pinch points from Austria and Iceland, they could snatch a last-16 spot.
What will happen
Three narrow defeats, but nowhere near the disaster that was the 6-0 stuffing by the Soviet Union in their 1986 World Cup opener, which was Hungary’s previous appearance at a major tournament.
Key player - Zoltan Gera
He’s no longer the player that inspired Fulham’s run to the Europa League final in 2010 – these days he’s in a deeper, more defensive role – but Gera is still a leader, even if he doesn’t wear the captain’s armband. He is respected by everyone as the best Hungary have to offer.
Manager - Bernd Storck
Previously an assistant at Dortmund and coach of Kazakhstan, Storck has overseen Hungary’s best run in the past 30 years, culminating in two momentous play-off victories over Norway to qualify for Euro 2016.
Q&A - Gabor Kiraly
Hungary have qualified for their first major tournament since 1986 – how important is that?
We all felt the responsibility; the gravity of the task. It’s a fantastic new thing for people to be able to support their own national team during the European Championship.
You played a key role in qualifying, but you’re best known for the grey jogging bottoms. Are they more famous than your performances?
It’s not enough to put a pair of trousers between the goalposts – someone has to wear them, too. I started wearing them 20 years ago. Haladas were fighting relegation and I wore black jogging bottoms, but for some reason they hadn’t been washed so the kit manager gave me a pair of grey ones. They turned out to be really lucky. We went nine matches without defeat and conceded only two goals.
Are you a fashion icon?
I’m not a top model; I’m a goalie. It is important to feel comfortable on the field. I can do my best like this. I have thousands of superstitions, such as my car always has to be a Mini Cooper. I’m an individual.
Fixtures and results
June 14, Austria - Bordeaux, Midnight
June 18, Iceland - Marseille, Midnight
June 22, Portugal - Lyon, Midnight
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
vs N. Ireland (H) 1-2
vs Romania (A) 1-1
vs Faroe Islands (A) 1-0
vs Finland (H) 1-0
vs Greece (H) 0-0
vs Finland (A) 1-0
vs Romania (H) 0-0
vs N. Ireland (A) 1-1
vs Faroe Islands (H) 2-1
vs Greece (A) 3-4
vs Norway (A) 1-0
vs Norway (H) 2-1
EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP RECORD
Words and interview Gyorgy Szollosi
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