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Hungary Draws Hot Group in EC Qualifier But Still Has Hope

2018.12.04.

On Sunday, UEFA drew the qualifying groups for the upcoming EURO 2020. Hungary drew a hot group with World Cup runner-up Croatia, Gareth Bale’s Wales, fierce rival Slovakia and a potentially dangerous Azerbaijan. While most agree that—thanks to Marco Rossi’s excellent attitude and tactical skills—the national team shows a tendency towards improvement, experts insist that the team would still need to perform outstandingly as odds aren’t on their side.

National teams can qualify for the next edition of the European Championship either through UEFA’s brand new competition, Nations League or the usual qualification process. Since leaders made it clear that qualification is expected and the Hungarian team finished second in the previous group phase, it leaves them with no choice but to qualify through the usual process. Here, the top two teams of each group will automatically qualify for the Euro 2020, co-hosted by Budapest.

Recent results show that Hungary will need to utilize its best to go through. In 1985, the national team managed to beat Wales, yet they were unable to score a goal against them in the last two friendlies. In addition, Hungary has never beat Croatia or Slovakia since they’ve become independent.

Croatia should have no problem topping the group despite the fact that they were relegated from the top flight of the Nations League. Coach Zlatko Dalić, however, warned that the outstanding performance displayed by his team during the WC in Russia is in the past and insisted that this qualification period will be a completely new situation.

In total, the Hungarian team played 10 games against Wales, and statistics —as well as current circumstances—show a modest Welsh dominance. The coach of the semi-finalist of the last European Championships, Manchester United’s legend Ryan Giggs, is optimistic for good reason as he has superstar players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey at his disposal.

After the draw, Slovakian coach Pavel Hapal confirmed that the group is well-balanced, highlighting the rivalry between Hungary and Slovakia. At the moment, the Slovakian team is definitely shaping up better than the Hungarian team as it has stars like Marek Hamšik, Martin Škrtel and young talent Milan Škriniar. Football has always been a point of friction between the two countries and, as a result, very tense atmospheres and sold-out stadiums are guaranteed.

Given Hungary’s recent humiliating defeats against Andorra, Malta and Luxembourg, Azerbaijan cannot be underestimated either. Even though the Azeri football team’s success can’t be compared to that of the country’s futsal team reinforced by South American naturalized players, the game in Baku will definitely be difficult, as Croatia can also attest to (0-0 draw in a 2015 EC qualifier). Experts insist that Hungary will need to work hard to guard its impeccable statistics (to this date: 5 matches, 5 victories).

Coach Marco Rossi reaffirmed that Croatia is the top favorite in the group. “The Croats don’t need to be introduced to anyone; the runner-up in this year’s WC represents a different quality than the other four teams. (…) As for the others, it will be mainly up to us what results we achieve.” He later added that “Hungary will probably wage a tough battle with Wales and Slovakia for the second place.”

photos by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI