Hungary has started its World Cup 2022 qualification journey against Poland. Although the Polish national team is higher-ranked (they were drawn from Pot 2 instead of Hungary’s Pot 3), the game on home soil was of special importance, as Hungary has been dreaming of qualification for the biggest football event since 1986, the last time it took part in a World Cup.
Although Poland has more internationally recognized players, among them center forward Robert Lewandowski, arguably the best player in the world these days, Hungary had some hope and was not to be underestimated. They had made this clear in 2020, when they bagged surprisingly good results with some remarkable performances even against stronger teams such as Russia, Turkey, and Serbia. Poland’s decision to change their head coach also gave hope to the Hungarian side, as Paulo Sousa, the former coach of Hungarian team Videoton, only had a few days to prepare for the match, having met his players for the first time, while Marco Rossi has been coaching Hungary for years.
The two nations celebrated the day of Hungarian-Polish friendship a day before, and even some banners around the stadium reminded players and fans of the event, but the match itself was not a friendly at all. World Cup qualification was at stake, and both teams were eager to get their three points.
Photo by Zsolt Szigetvár/MTI
The match started with Poland attacking, but after a counter, Hungary’s quick forward Roland Sallai scored only 6 minutes into the game. The Hungarian national team played with organization and confidence, while the Polish side seemed puzzled. Hungary well-deservedly doubled its advantage in the 53th minutes with Ádám Szalai’s goal, his first one since 2019 October, quite a long goal drought for a striker.
Based on what we had seen on the pitch until then, and Poland not having a single shot on target for almost an hour, one could have thought that the match was over, and Hungary had won. Unfortunately, maybe even some Hungarian players believed it. Paulo Sousa made a triple substitution in the 59th minute, revitalizing his team. It had an immediate effect. The Polish team fought back – scoring two goals in less than a minute. By the 61st minute, the game was all square again.
Instead of collapsing, this was taken as a wake-up call for Hungary. Central defender and second most prolific player of the national team under Rossi, Willi Orbán, took the lead in the 78th minute after an assist by Ádám Szalai. However, the match was still not over. The other freedom fighter nation was also not used to giving up, and Robert Lewandowski, as soon as he lost his marker for a second, showed his class with a stunner only four minutes later. In the remaining 10 minutes, both teams wanted to score for a win, but the match ended up in a draw.
Considering that Poland has more top players and a world class striker, while Hungary was missing injured prodigy Dominik Szoboszlai, this was not a bad result for us. However, when considering how the match went and noting that only 13 teams qualify from Europe for the World Cup, this was a rather disappointing outcome.
Still, Hungary now has the chance to grab many more points and gain self-confidence, as Marco Rossi’s players will face San Marino and Andorra in the coming days.
Hungary – Poland 3-3 (1-0)
Budapest, Puskás Aréna, behind closed doors
Hungary: Gulácsi – Fiola, Orbán, A. Szalai – Lovrencsics (Nego, 66.), Á. Nagy, Kleinheisler, Kalmár (Sigér, 81.), Hangya (Lang, 66.) – Á. Szalai, Sallai (K. Varga, 72.).
Poland: Szczesny – Bereszynski, Bednarek, Helik (Glik, 58.), Reca (Rybus, 79.) – Szymanski (Józwiak, 59.), Krychowiak, Moder (Piatek, 59.), Zielinski – Lewandowski, Milik (Grosicki, 84.).
Goals: Sallai (H – 6.), Á Szalai (H – 53.), Piatek (P – 60.), Józwiak (P – 61.), Orban (H – 78.), Lewandowski (P – 82.)
Red card: Fiola (90+3.)
Featured photo by Zsolt Szigetváry/MTI