BUDAPEST (Reuters) - History always hangs heavy on the Hungarian national team, whose decades of under-achievement are contrasted with the sepia glory of the 1950s when glittering talents such as Ferenc Puskas and Jeno Buzanszky reshaped football’s landscape.
Whatever else Bernd Storck’s team achieve — and nobody expects very much — they at least have the opportunity to bring the story up to date when they rejoin football’s elite in France.
“We want to play good football and to prove, that we are worthy members of the championship. Making the second round is not an expectation, rather a dream,” said Storck in an assessment that few fans will disagree with.
Hungary have not appeared in a major tournament since the 1986 World Cup and their last European Championship appearance was in 1972. So just being there in 2016 ranks as a major achievement for a team who finished only third in their group, eventually qualifying via a 2-1 aggregate play-off win over Norway.
Their campaign was troubled, with one coach sacked and another leaving for club football in Germany before Storck delivered unexpected qualification on an unforgettable night in Budapest.
The qualifiers had begun in the worst possible way with a 2-1 defeat to Northern Ireland, a result that led to Attila Pinter being replaced by Pal Dardai, who started the difficult job of rebuilding a team short on confidence and cohesion.
Dardai soon departed for Hertha Berlin, leaving Storck, the former head coach of Kazakhstan, to introduce young blood and dare his team to come good with a more attacking style.
Among some surprising calls was his decision to play Laszlo Kleinheisler in the first game against Norway despite the midfielder not having played for his club all season after refusing to sign a contract extension.
The 22-year-old rewarded Storck’s faith with a man-of-the-match performance that was followed by a move to Werder Bremen. Kleinheisler is tipped to catch the eye in France, not least for his red hair which has led to the nickname Scholes. The midfielder also shares former Manchester United player Paul Scholes’s eye for a goal.
At the other end of the age range is former Crystal Palace keeper Gabor Kiraly, who turned 40 in April and is hoping to eclipse German Lothar Matthaeus as the oldest player to appear in the tournament finals.
Where Hungary may struggle is up front after managing just 11 goals in 10 qualifiers but the group draw in France has been kind to them and, Portugal apart, they will look to games against Austria and tournament debutants Iceland as offering the chance to sneak a result.
Edited by Neil Robinson