Much like Scotland, Hungary were once a key part of international football’s old order. They too claimed an historic win over England at Wembley which is still celebrated to this day, although they had the good manners to leave the goalposts standing after their victory in 1953’s so-called ‘Match of the Century.’
Indeed, Hungary, in international football terms, are known for what they used to be rather than what they are now. Currently ranked 50th in the world, 18 places below Scotland, the Magyars are no longer the force they were through the 1950s and into the 60s. And yet Hungary, once again just like Scotland, is pinning faith on the next generation.
Of course, Hungary have already succeeded in qualifying for a major tournament recently, not just making it to Euro 2016 – their first major finals in 44 years – but also making it out of the group stage and into the round of 16. In that sense, they have already succeeded where Scotland have failed since 1998.
Manager Bernd Stock paid for the failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup with his job, resigning after finishing third in their qualifying group behind the unbeaten Portugal and Switzerland. Hungary were dealt a tough hand, but Stock’s exit illustrates just how much is expected of the Nemzeti Tizenegy at this point of their resurgence.
Just like Scotland, Hungary don’t have a world-class star. They don’t have a Gareth Bale or a Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they have former PSV Eindhoven winger Balazs Dzsudzsak and on-loan Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai. On paper, Scotland boast a stronger squad, but in Hungary Alex McLeish might actually find a precedent to follow.
Hungary have followed through on many of the things that have been demanded, at one point or another, of Scotland over the past few years. They have prioritised the selection of players playing domestically, with 13 of the 27-man squad picked for Tuesday’s friendly against Scotland currently at Hungarian clubs.
They have also established a pathway between the youth ranks and the senior team and have hired a foreign manager with a proven international record in Georges Leekens, the former Belgium, Tunisia and Algeria coach.
His first match didn’t inspire confidence, mind you – a 3-2 friendly defeat at home to Kazakhstan in Budapest on Friday, where the 136th-ranked Kazakhs were 2-0 up in ten minutes.
In addition, the squad that will take on Scotland is not as young and promising as it might have been, with many of Hungary’s best prospects kept back in the Under-21s this week for two crucial European Championship qualifiers against Cyprus and Belgium. Players like Daniel Salloi, Dominik Szoboszlai and Daniel Gazdag won’t be present at Budapest’s Groupama Arena.
Adam Nagy, 22, will be present, though. The midfielder, who already has over 20 caps, impressed at Euro 2016 two years ago, earning himself a move to Bologna on the back of those performances.
Kenny Otigba is another tipped for big things, breaking through at Heerenveen in the Netherlands before returning to Hungary with Ferencvaros on a big-money deal. Right-back Barnabas Bese, 23, is enjoying a good season at Le Havre in France, while Astana’s Laszlo Kleinheisler is expected to become a key player for Hungary over the coming years, even if he has barely played this season since injuring himself against Celtic in Champions League qualification back in August.
Scotland and Hungary haven’t played each other since 2004, but they have something in common. They are hanging their hopes on a number of exciting, young talents to take them back to the top.