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EURO 2020: Luck Favors Portugal, but Hungary Leaves Pitch with Heads Held High

Hungary put on a great performance against reigning European champion Portugal. The grit and determination shown by the national team was worthy of a draw. But Fate had a different scenario in mind: although the match was still a stalemate in the 84th minute, by the final whistle, Portugal scored three goals and Cristiano Ronaldo celebrated another record.

The “Group of Death” is how this European Championship’s Group F has been labeled. It sounds quite ominous, and it sounds even more terrifying when you are the only team there which is not a football predator. Fate was not on the Hungarians’ side, as defending world champion France, defending European champion Portugal, and the winner of the previous World Cup, Germany, were all drawn to this group.

Although Hungary had a glorious campaign (by Hungarian football standards) at the last edition of the EUROs, qualifying from the group to the knock-out stage, a similar success this time around would really be a dream scenario. In 2016, drawn in the same group with Portugal, Iceland, and Austria, Hungary did not have much of a chance, and even qualifying for a great tournament after no less than 30 years was a remarkable achievement. To top this with qualifying from the group was the icing on the cake, and the fact that Hungary indeed finished first was something indescribable with confectionary concepts.

Now having to battle three main title contenders in the group, both national team coach Marco Rossi and the players emphasized the importance of character during the matches. As captain Ádám Szalai put it,

When it comes to playing with the ball [against these odds], our most important trait will be the size of the thing between our legs.”

Marco Rossi also expected a ballsy approach from his players: “Anyone who needs extra motivation in times like this has to change their profession.” Aware of the chances, the head coach also said that Hungary wants “to dream for as long as possible,” reminding all Hungarian fans of the football anthem of EURO 2016, “Az éjjel soha nem érhet véget” (“The night can never end”).

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Five years ago, Hungary and Portugal played an exciting 3-3 in the last group match, and the draw was enough for both of them to qualify. However, now the situation is different, and not only due to their match being the first in the group stage. The major teams clearly need all 3 points against Hungary, as no one can foresee how the matches between them will turn out, and even a win (and two defeats) can prove to be enough for one of them to qualify at third place. Prior to the match, Portugal did not try to hide its ambition to grab all three points.

Hungary stronger in the stands

Everyone knew that the matches held in Budapest would have a special atmosphere during EURO 2020, as Hungary is the only country which allowed the sale of all the seats in its stadium. At the pre-match press conference, Cristiano Ronaldo expressed his joy over playing in front of so many fans again, something he could not experience for many, many months.

Photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI

Hosting the European Championship for the first time ever and having just survived the dramatic third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the fans were excited to take part in what is considered Europe’s biggest football feast. The mood was reminiscent of a carnival: tens of thousands of football fans queued through the Hungarian capital in the afternoon, singing and chanting.

Photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI

They even took the time to send a message to Danish star player Christian Eriksen, who collapsed during their first match after a cardiac arrest. He was taken to a hospital and his life was saved following a 20-minute battle on the pitch.

The crowd of fans, accompanied by red, white, and green smoke all through their march, finally arrived to their destination and the Puskás Arena was packed with supporters.

Photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI

The Hungarian team clearly had the home advantage: 97 percent of the tickets were sold domestically. The attendance of 67 155 marks a new record for the past 35 years, as never in the past three and a half decades had Hungary witnessed so many football fans in a competitive match.

Photo by Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI

Portugal dominates on the pitch

Hungary has never won a match against Portugal, which was not a good omen. However, according to head coach Marco Rossi’s expectations, the national team entered the pitch with courage and determination. The squad was well-organized, especially the defense: Willy Orbán is now a household name in Europe. But the other central defenders, Botka and Attila Szalai, and the wing-backs, Gergő Lovrencsics and Attila Fiola, proved their worth as well.

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On the other side, Cristiano Ronaldo was not only playing for the three points for Portugal, but also for personal records. By having been named in the starting line-up, he had already become one of the few players to have played in five different European Championships. But having been the joint top scorer of the EUROs with French legend Michel Platini, he was only one goal away from being the sole No. 1. Also, by winning the match, as joint leader he could become the player with the most EURO wins (12).

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI

Portugal had more overall possession, but their attempts caused little to no problem for Hungary’s world-class goalkeeper, Péter Gulácsi, although the pressure was high for 20 minutes. In the first half, Hungary had only one shot at goal: a header by Ádám Szalai to be precise, but our team was not inferior to the reigning European champions. Hungary was missing two key players, injured Dominik Szoboszlai and Zsolt Kalmár, especially for their creativity in the midfield. The defense was solid, and every time Hungary started to attack, a Portuguese foul stopped our advance.

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In the second half, Hungary had more room to attack, although Portugal still stopped most of these early through tactical fouls. Ádám Szalai, Hungary’s center forward with a fighting spirit, conceded more fouls than anyone else on the pitch, including the legendary CR7. Apropos, Cristiano Ronaldo. He was almost invisible in the second half, and as more and more minutes had passed, he became more and more frustrated with the lack of opportunities.

William Carvalho and Ádám Szalai. Photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI

In the 80th minute the whole stadium (well, 97 percent of the stadium: the Hungarian fans) jumped up to celebrate: after a counter-attack, the fast Szabolcs Schön, who had only entered the pitch a few minutes prior, scored for Hungary. However, the referee ruled it as offside, rightfully so.

Unfortunately, not long after came an even bigger disappointment: Guerreiro’s shot deflected on Willy Orbán and went right into the corner, Gulácsi could not save it. 0-1. The Hungarian squad was determined to equalize, but after a Portuguese counter, Willy Orbán attempted a hard tackle against Rafa Silva, which the referee saw was a foul and gave Portugal a penalty. Cristiano Ronaldo did not miss the shot, 0-2, breaking another record and becoming the top goal scorer of the European Championships with 10 goals.

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI

And it still was not over…in the stoppage time, the now highly-motivated Cristiano Ronaldo made it to a brace, 0-3, an unjust result that left Hungary disappointed.

Photo by Zoltán Balogh/MTI

However, despite the result, the fans were still grateful for the performance, and the players’ courage and determination. After the final whistle, the players and the tens of thousands of fans sang the Himnusz, Hungary’s anthem, together.

Photo by MTI/AP pool/Tibor Illyés

Hungary – Portugal 0–3 (0–0)
Budapest, Puskás Aréna.
Hungary: Gulácsi – Botka, Orbán, A. Szalai – Lovrencsics, Á. Nagy (R. Varga, 88.), Kleinheisler (Sigér, 78.), Schäfer (Nego, 65.), Fiola (K. Varga, 88.) – Á. Szalai, Sallai (Schön, 77.)
Portugal: Rui Patrício – Nélson Semedo, Pepe, Rúben Dias, Guerreiro – Danilo Pereira, William Carvalho (Renato Sanches, 81.), Bruno Fernandes (Moutinho, 89.) – Bernardo Silva (Rafa Silva, 71.), C. Ronaldo, Diogo Jota (André Silva, 81.)
Goals: Guerreiro (84.), C. Ronaldo (87. (P), 90+2.)

Featured photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI