Match Preview: Hungary need unity, luck against defending champions Portugal

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Portugal will look to their Euro 2020 opener with Hungary to get a head start on Germany and France in a bruising Group F but the holders will have to overcome a wall of noise made by 67 000  locals to make a statement of intent.

Hungary, playing in only their second European Championship in 49 years, are ranked outsiders in the tournament’s toughest group but will compensate for what they lack in star names with passion and grit.

The shiny new Puskas Arena is the only Euro 2020 stadium which will be at full capacity after local authorities agreed to exchange social distancing for a strict entry policy, requiring fans to return a negative COVID-19 test to gain access.

It means the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes face the prospect of their every touch being booed in Tuesday’s fixture by the Budapest crowd, who will not forgive any slacking off from their side.

“They (Hungary) are a very tough team and won’t let any ball go and will never give up,” said Portugal midfielder Danilo.

“We know what style of play to expect from them. We spent a season without playing in front of fans and we’re not used to it anymore but having a crowd will make the game more exciting. Hungary will be extra motivated but it’s just another problem we’ll have to deal with.”

Leaving aside the partisan crowd, Portugal are likely to face tougher tests from Germany and France and the fixture is a golden chance to clock up some early goals and points to help their push to qualify from the group.

Portugal did face a torrid time from Hungary at Euro 2016, falling behind three times before coming back to earn a 3-3 draw and scrape into the knockout stages.

Fernando Santos’ Portugal side are an even stronger proposition five years on, possessing an embarrassment of attacking riches with the likes of Diogo Jota, Andre Silva, Joao Felix and Fernandes as well as the ever-determined Ronaldo.

“This is a different group, we have many young players embarking on their first major international tournament although our ambition and hunger will be the same as in Euro 2016,” added 29-year-old Danilo.

“The previous team was very cohesive as they had been playing together for a long time while we are a young team of emerging talents but we are also a united group. We all think the same and want to win.”

Hungary, meanwhile, are a less potent side than the one which reached the knockout stage last time around, with big personalities such as Gabor Kiraly, Roland Juhasz and Zoltan Gera all moving on.

They are also without two key midfielders in bright young hope Dominik Szoboszlai and Zsolt Kalmar due to injury.

They need cohesion, discipline and a fair bit of luck against the defending champions if they are to make a good start to their Euro 2020 Group F campaign, coach Marco Rossi said on Monday.

Asked which Portuguese player Hungary will be most concerned about on Tuesday, Rossi laughed.

“I could almost list the entire squad,” he told reporters. “I could just be the kit man or one of the ground staff for them… Naming one player would be a disservice to the others. They have huge potential in all areas of the pitch.”

He said the Portuguese frontline was perhaps the most formidable, with world-class players in the starting lineup and on the bench.

“We need to help one another out, we need to make sure we’re very compact, and close down the space between the lines. And I hope that we can also have that rub-of-the-green bit of fortune that is very important if you were to have a positive result,” he said.

Hungary rely on a robust defence and counter-attacks. Fewer big names in their squad means the team may be fresher than opponents who have played full seasons in big domestic and international tournaments.

Bundesliga stalwarts like Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi do play for Hungary, tough opponents even without their most valuable player, Dominik Szoboszlai.

“We are well aware of the group we are in,” added forward Adam Szalai, Hungary‘s captain and their most-capped current player with 70 international appearances.

“We need to execute our strategy, especially on defence, because this Portuguese team is stronger even than the 2016 one,” he said.

Hungary and Portugal played one of the most exciting group matches at Euro 2016, with Hungary leading three times and Portugal equalising on each occasion including two goals by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Hungary finished top of the group before losing 4-0 to Belgium in the round of 16 while Portugal won the title.