Portugal take on Hungary on Sunday evening in a crucial World Cup qualifier at the Groupama Aréna in Budapest. Victory against the Magyars is vital if Portugal are to stay on course for a showdown against Switzerland at the Estádio da Luz on October 10, a match likely to determine which nation automatically qualifies for Russia 2018.
After opening their World Cup campaign with a 2-0 loss in Switzerland just over a year ago, Portugal have been playing catch-up ever since despite winning six consecutive games. The Faroe Islands offered little resistance on Thursday evening, dispatched 5-1 in Porto with Ronaldo adding another three goals to his resume.
The Seleção have been scoring at will since the Swiss defeat, racking up 27 goals in six victories with Ronaldo responsible for 14 of them. Portugal recently competed in the Confederations Cup in Russia, exiting the in the semi-finals after a penalty shootout loss against Chile, winning the 3rd place consolation prize with a 2-1 victory against Mexico in extra-time.
Hungary won Group F at Euro 2016 but were eliminated in the first knockout stage against Belgium after a 4-0 defeat. Their World Cup qualifying campaign got off to a horrible start with a 0-0 draw in the Faroe Islands, but the ultimate humiliation would follow with a 1-0 loss in Andorra ending their World Cup dreams.
The Magyars defeated Latvia 3-1 on Thursday evening, but with the Baltic nation currently behind Andorra and Faroe Islands in Group B, it’s hardly a win that prompts enthusiasm. Ádám Szalai and Balázs Dzsudzsák both scored however and are two players that Portugal will need to be wary of in Budapest.
Head to head
Portugal have faced Hungary seven times since their first meeting at the 1966 World Cup, the Seleção winning six times with the only draw occurring last year at Euro 2016. Portugal have managed to score three goals on six occasions, with the two clashes occurring in Hungary both won by the Seleção, a 3-1 victory in 1998 and a 1-0 win in 2009 with Pepe the match winner.
Portugal had few problems in the reverse fixture at the Estádio da Luz in March, André Silva opening the scoring before Ronaldo added two goals in a comfortable 3-0 win. It would be a travesty if I previewed this game without mentioning the 3-3 draw in Lyon at Euro 2016, where Portugal came from behind on three occasions to keep their tournament hopes alive on their way to becoming European champions.
Zoltán Gera’s opening goal was cancelled out by Nani who finished off a wonderful pass from Ronaldo before half-time. Dzsudzsák restored Hungary’s lead with a deflected free kick before Ronaldo made it 2-2 with a clever back heeled finish from Nani’s cross. Another deflected effort from Dzsudzsák gave the Magyar’s a shock 3-2 lead, but Ronaldo headed in Quaresma’s cross to secure a 3-3 draw which was just enough to qualify for the knockout rounds. The rest as they say, is history.
Danger man – Portugal
This is becoming rather tedious, but it’s no surprise that Ronaldo is Portugal’s danger man. Just when you think he has broken every scoring record that exists in football, he goes and breaks more. Ronaldo’s hat-trick against the Faroe Islands took him to 14 goals for the campaign, the most ever scored in a single European qualifying group.
Ronaldo’s 29 World Cup qualifying goals is another record, with his 32 career World Cup goals including finals giving him the outright record ahead of Miroslav Klose. The 32-year-old’s insatiable hunger for goals, records and adulation knows no bounds, with his recent suspension in Spain adding to a ferocious appetite with Hungary, Andorra and Switzerland on the menu.
Danger men – Hungary
Balázs Dzsudzsák is Hungary’s captain and well known to Portuguese supporters due to his two goals in Lyon. Currently playing for UAE club Al Wahda, the 30-year-old possesses a sweet left foot and remains a set piece specialist, exemplified in the 3-1 victory against Latvia with an assist from a corner and a goal from a free kick. It was his first goal this campaign, but Portugal will be well advised to limit Dzsudzsák’s impact on the game.
Ádám Szalai earned a move to Real Madrid Castilla as a youngster and has played in the Bundesliga since 2010. Currently at Hoffenheim, the 29-year-old is a 6’4 striker whose strength and aerial ability are his main assets. Szalai headed in Dzsudzsák’s corner against Latvia for his fifth qualifying goal and scored two goals against Switzerland in the 3-2 home defeat last October, a game the Swiss won in the 89th minute.
What to expect
Fernando Santos will likely field the same starting XI that defeated the Faroe Islands, with Raphaël Guerreiro the only notable absentee meaning the Seleção are close to full strength. André Silva will get a chance to atone after a poor performance on Thursday, João Mário easing his way back into the team while João Moutinho should retain his place ahead of André Gomes.
Playing in Budapest won’t be easy and special attention will need to be paid to Magyar captain and set piece specialist Balázs Dzsudzsák and striker Ádám Szalai. With right-back Barnabás Bese suspended and left-back Mihály Korhut guilty of a howler against Latvia on Thursday, the Hungarian full backs will be significantly vulnerable which are prime positions for Portugal to attack.
Portugal won’t want to go through another play-off to reach a major tournament, with victories in Hungary and Andorra essential to set up a showdown against Switzerland on October 10. History suggests Portugal deserve clear favouritism but as we saw 16 months ago in Lyon, Hungary must not be underestimated.
The lethargy and tedious build up play we saw from Portugal against the Faroe Islands needs to be addressed, and Portugal’s inability to dominate games against inferior opponents remain concerns, but there should be no excuses against Hungary even on their home soil. Força!