A long dry season ended last night for the Hungarian national team and their fans. There was big celebration in the Groupama Arena as the Hungarian team secured their place to a major football tournament for the first time in 30 years with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Norway in their Euro 2016 qualifying playoff.
Only five of their squad were even born when Hungary played at the 1986 Mexico World Cup and, of those, only veteran goalkeeper Gábor Király, who probably has a full memory of the tournament, was in the starting line-up on this occasion.
As Lászlo Kleinheisler scored on his debut in the national team on Thursday in Oslo, Hungary had a 1-0 victory in the first leg of the play-off, there were high expectations among Hungarian fans for a breakthrough after Hungary failing to qualify for a major football tournament for 30 years.
In the second leg last night in Budapest both teams were wearing black armbands and observe minute’s silence following events in Paris – and also honoured the memory of legendary player and coach, Pál Várhidi, who died recently and young international goalkeeper Márton Fülöp, who had lost his battle with cancer on the day of the first leg.Tamás Priskin scored last night early in the first half, with a beautiful strike into the top corner to send the fans wild and giving the lead to Hungary again in front of the noisy crowd of about 25,000.
Norway enjoyed plenty of ball possession, as they had during Thursday’s first leg defeat in Oslo, but were once again unable to make it count. Hungary goalkeeper Gábor Király made excellent saves in each half blocking the attempts by Norway and Hungary confidently held on to the advantage for much of the match, and even doubled their advantage through a Markus Henriksen own goal before the same player then struck at the right end for Norway, but it was too late for the away team.
Hungary’s qualification came at the end of a turbulent campaign, during which they used three coaches as they finished third in Group F behind winners Northern Ireland. After Attila Pinter was sacked last September, and his interim replacement Pál Dárdai then stepped aside to focus full-time on his role as coach of Hertha Berlin, German Bernd Storck was appointed in July, and given the task of seeing the team through to the finals.