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2020 brought football success that not many could have predicted. The national team qualified for the European Championships which Budapest co-hosts; it also won its Nations League group against stronger rivals, something that could potentially be worth a lot in the future. In addition, Ferencváros fought its way to the Champions League group stage, bringing star teams like Juventus and FC Barcelona to Hungary.

This time one year ago, not many would have thought that the European Football Championships that Budapest set to co-host, wouldn’t be finished by now. The coronavirus pandemic, however, rewrote the scenario, the large-scale football event, the first of its kind to be held in Hungary, is still ahead of us.

The restrictions led to the EC qualification play-off’s postponement as well, those that eventually brought the biggest football success of Hungarian football this year. The Hungarian team, after defeating Bulgaria in Sofia, in the empty Puskás Aréna (the ban on fans only went into effect two days earlier due to the spread of the coronavirus) managed to overcome Iceland as well, thereby qualifying for the tournament for the second time in a row. Hopefully in June, a packed Puskás Aréna will welcome Portugal and France before Marco Rossi’s team travels to Munich.

The Nations League success, coming only six days later, was the icing on the cake. In a group that many previously labeled a nightmare, Hungary managed to stun Turkey, Serbia, and Russia and came out on top in this group. Thanks to the triumph, the team will have the chance to clash with Europe’s top teams in the next edition of this new UEFA tournament. Perhaps more importantly, Hungary moved itself into a better position for the playoffs (if needed at all) both for the 2022 World Cup and the 2024 European Championships.

In 2020 (or rather in the three months when national team games could be held), Hungary only lost once, drew twice, and won five times while it exclusively clashed with similarly -or higher- ranked teams. As a result, the Hungarian national team emerged the one to bag the most ranking points (44) among FIFA’s 210 members in 2020, thanks to which it could step forward 12 places, the second most after Burundi, in the world ranking.

The other major highlight of the football year was reigning champion Ferencvárosqualification to the top international football club tournament’s group stage. The green-whites managed to do so ten years after Debrecen and 25 years after their last qualification, marking the third ever occasion a Hungarian side gained admittance among Europe’s elite. After knocking out the Swedish, Scottish, Croatian, and Norwegian champions, Fradi eventually managed to grab one point in a thrilling tie with Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv in the group stage. Too bad their last home game against Barcelona was already affected by the strict coronavirus regulations, and none of their fans could see it in person, neither could they travel abroad for the games.

In addition, MOL Fehérvár was one match away (only defeated by Belgian Standard Liège) from the Europa League group stage.

In 2020, Hungary also got closer to once again finally “delegating” a world-class player in international football. After the last such player Lajos Détári, Dominik Szoboszlai‘s star is constantly rising, and he not only proved himself this year in the Austrian championships (playing for Austria’s best club RB Salzburg) but in the Champions League and the national team too (where he scored the decisive goal against Iceland in the 90th minute). He has recently signed with top Bundesliga side RB Leipzig for 20 million euros, the highest amount of money ever paid for a Hungarian player. And let’s not overlook Péter Gulácsi, indispensible goalie of aforementioned RB Leipzig who, together with defender Willi Orbán, reached the Champions League semifinal with the German club, emerging the first ever Hungarians to do so.

Most Successful Hungarian Club of the 21st Century Relegated, as Ferencváros Defends Title
Most Successful Hungarian Club of the 21st Century Relegated, as Ferencváros Defends Title

Debreceni VSC, the most successful Hungarian club of the past 20 years, was relegated from the top flight of Hungarian football, resulting in minor disturbances on the field by some spectators after the final whistle. In addition, Orbán’s Puskás Akadémia, located in Felcsút, grabbed the bronze medal, qualifying for the Europa League for the first […]Continue reading

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic also refreshed ongoing debates about the huge and ever-increasing Hungarian football supports, stadium building projects, and Viktor Orbán’s excessive love of football amid healthcare (and education) issues and the lack of funds. While government politicians were eager to depict successes as their own, many experts point out that key players gained football knowledge abroad, and although a large amount of public funds are channeled into domestic football, it still lacks lasting solutions and the pricey academy system’s competitiveness is also doubtful, while most clubs are still dependent on government politicians and pro-gov’t, state firms’ backing, and success on a club level requires signing foreign players (as in the case of Ferencváros).

In any case, 2021 will be perhaps an even more eventful year football-wise, with the coronavirus pandemic hopefully soon becoming only a bad dream.

Featured photo by Tibor Illyés/MTI