Gratulálok Magyarorszag

It’s hard to believe given that Hungary is the nation that gave us Ferenc Puskas and the Mighty Magyars, but tonight’s victory over an insipid Norway has brought to an end a 44 year wait for an appearance at European Championships; and a 30 year wait for an appearance at a major international championship.

While the current Nemzeti Tizenegy is not fit to lace the boots of the famous Mighty Magyars team of the 1950’s – very few teams every have been – nothing should be taken away from their historic achievement.  Some, for example, may argue that qualification for the upcoming Euro 2016 was the easiest in history and that only the minnows of European football would miss out on the big stage; try telling that to the Netherlands, or even Norway. They have qualified where others have failed, and that should be celebrated.

Hungary fans celebrating victory against Norway. (c) bbc sport
Hungary fans celebrating victory against Norway. (c) Getty Images

My interest in Hungarian football comes from partner being Hungarian (Transylvanian, in actual fact), having a number of close Hungarian friends, and a childhood fascination with Kispest Honved; I just loved the name Honved. However, I must admit that I didn’t follow Hungary’s progress in the group stage too closely other than always looking out for their result, and then more often than not, instantly forgetting it. Therefore I have no idea how they performed during the group games.

The play-off with Norway however, I did watch. Or at least whatever a constantly buffering SkyGo stream would let me; I was still watching the first game ten minutes after it had finished!!  Thankfully I found a better stream from the Hungarian TV station M4 Sport (or something like that) for the second game.

Despite my buffering issues I enjoyed both games.  Not just because Hungary eventually prevailed and certainly not because the standard of football was particularly high from either side, but because both ties saw two evenly matched sides slug it out blow for blow.  It was a battle, and an intriguing one at that where fine margins, not outrageous skill, would make the difference.

Laszlo Kleinheisler (L) celebrates scoring in the first leg. (c) Getty Images
Laszlo Kleinheisler (L) celebrates scoring in the first leg. (c) Getty Images

Neither Norway, nor this Hungary team are blessed with players of great ability – Dzsudzsak and Odegaard being the only possible exceptions.  Both appeared to be weak defensively, Hungary more so as their defence was a tad too porous and welcoming for my liking; but both also lacked a potent goal threat up front, Norway more so as evidenced by the glut of chances they spurned in the first game.  The victor would ultimately be the team who made less mistakes.  Given that Norway’s mistakes were in front of goal, Hungary were favourites.   It didn’t matter that they created more chances, had more corners, and had an inspired Alexander Tettay in the first game, they never looked like scoring.

Hungary on the other hand looked like the perfect guests in Oslo, giving the Norwegian’s chance after chance, until Kleinheisler decided to show them how it’s done in front of goal with a wicked strike.  Not for one minute do I think it was Stock’s plan to invite Norway on to them so much, sucking up the pressure and hitting on a counter – with that defence only a fool would play it that way – but that’s pretty much how it happened.  If Stock did mean it, then hat’s off to him.

The second half of that first game followed a similar path to the first.  Norway on top but never looking like scoring, and Hungary looking more dangerous when they had the ball.  Hungary rolled with the punches, which became weaker and weaker as the game went on and deserved the win.  More to the point, Norway didn’t deserve to win.

Tamas Priskin, scorer of the vital opening goal in the second leg.
Tamas Priskin, scorer of the vital opening goal in the second leg.

Like the first leg, the second game was no classic but it will live long in the memories of the Hungarian people as the night their football team restored its pride.  Another battle of attrition against an opponent who never looked like hurting them no matter how hard they tried.

Priskin’s goal was a moment of genius and the second was the icing on the cake that finally put the Norwegian’s out of their misery.

It was also the goal that made a proud nation proud of it’s football team again.  There may not be a Puskas, a Kocsis, or a Hidegkuti in the current squad but at long last they now have a major championship to compete in again, and a chance to become heroes to a new generation.

However, having watched the play-off against Norway, I can’t honestly see Hungary making much headway in the Finals but for now, who cares?  Hungary are back at European football’s top table.

Marton Fulop, in whose memory this victory will surely be dedicated.
Marton Fulop, in whose memory this victory will surely be dedicated.

It wouldn’t be right to write something about this tie without mentioning Marton Fulop, the Hungarian goalkeeper who sadly passed away before the first leg.  Fulop won 24 caps for his country and made over 200 league appearances for various clubs throughout his career.  He was described by many who knew him, including current Celtic goalie Craig Gordon, as a gentleman and a great team mate. Rest in Peace Marton.  I’m sure your Nemzeti Tizenegy teammates won these games for you.

Gratulálok Magyarorszag,

I’m off to enjoy a Palinka or two. Egészégére!

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