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No fear for dark horses Hungary ahead of Swiss opener

No fear for dark horses Hungary ahead of Swiss opener

Saturday, June 15, 2024, 15:17 GMT+7
No fear for dark horses Hungary ahead of Swiss opener
Soccer Football - World Cup - UEFA Qualifiers - Group I - Hungary v England - Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary - September 2, 2021 General view of the UEFA Respect badge seen on the shirt of Hungary's Bendeguz Bolla during the match. Photo: Reuters

DUESSELDORF, Germany -- Whisper it quietly but there is growing belief that the Hungary side who start their Euro 2024 campaign against Switzerland on Saturday can be the one that finally emerges from the shadows of the nation's soccer heyday.

The legacy of the Magical Magyars, the 1950s team of Ferenc Puskas, has weighed heavily on generations of Hungarian footballers and there has been little to cheer about since.

They have not qualified for the World Cup finals since 1986 and although they did reach the Euro 2016 quarter-finals, they suffered a group-stage exit at Euro 2020.

There is a newly-restored pride in wearing the Hungarian shirt, however, and a quality squad featuring several players plying their trade at Europe's top clubs are regarded as dark horses for a deep run in Germany.

"We've prepared perfectly for tomorrow's game and we have no reasons to fear," right back Bendeguz Bolla told reporters on Friday ahead of the Group A clash -- the first meeting of the two nations in a major tournament for 86 years.

Arriving without any inferiority complex is certainly what Hungary's populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban is trumpeting.

The divisive figure has latched wholeheartedly on to the national team's re-emergence as a soccer force and was quoted in tabloid newspaper Blikk as saying the team are "no longer little boys but men who want to beat you".

Italian head coach manager Marco Rossi steered Hungary to win their qualifying group and they came close to a place in the Nations League finals after beating Germany and England.

A 14-match unbeaten run ended with this month's friendly defeat by Ireland, but they signed off for Germany with victory over Israel.

"I told them that confidence in them is growing and it has been growing day after day since we started working together," Rossi told reporters.

"I trust my players and we qualified not by chance but because we deserve to qualify on the pitch."

RB Leipzig's towering Peter Gulacsi and his team mate Willi Orban will provide an experienced platform for Hungary while Liverpool's 23-year-old midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai is set to become the youngest captain in European Championship history.

Confidence is oozing from the Hungarian camp but they will be well aware they have not beaten Switzerland in a competitive game since 1981 and have lost six of the last nine.

"If I said we are preparing our matches without caring about who is the opponent, how do they play? First of all, I would be lying and secondly I would be crazy," Rossi said, picking out Bayer Leverkusen's Granit Xhaka as a particular threat.

Victory in Cologne would put Hungary well on the way to reaching the last 16 with games against Germany and Scotland to follow.

Rossi said he had zero doubts about his line-up for Saturday's match, confirming that only French-born defender Loic Nego was not available.

Reuters

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