“This is who we were, remember us.”
In two different analyses, against Portugal and France, I have said that the Hungarian team needs to play more football, more passing, more ideas in occasional moments in possession if this defensive and counter-attacking style of football is to be successful. Of course, Rossi is a head coach with serious experience as a player and a coach, so he obviously knows this and knows it well. He could be seen from the sidelines on several occasions calling for passing lanes, suggesting solutions, and encouraging his players to keep the ball on the ground and try to play.
For several reasons, calm, and forward movement of the ball from time to time is extremely important. Firstly, because members of the defense need to breathe and to allow the stress caused by the opponent’s attacks to ease a little. It is also important because a boxer who dominates his opponent throughout, does not let go of the clinch and his opponent doesn’t even try to fight back, well, that boxer can go into the final rounds with a lot of energy, knowing that this can only be his fight. In the same way, the psychology of football means that a team that is defending and counter-attacking all the time must create unease and constant uncertainty in the opponent’s heart so that their creative and expressive energies in attacking the opponent cannot be unleashed.
This time the Hungarian team achieved this to the extreme against Germany.
Not only did they close the interior spaces in an even more organized way than before, blocking all but one of their wide area attempts, but they also played a very modern and promising game in moments of possession. The counterattacks were good, with Ádám Szalai holding the ball up well as a true target man and creating opportunities for double-tempo counterattacks. Special mention should be made of the play of Roland Sallai, who proved with maturity, and an extraordinary performance in evaluating the available spaces, that the dream of the European topflight is not too far-fetched for him.
Statistically, the picture is clear: the Hungarian team has been improving throughout the tournament, improving match by match in the indicators that can be considered as the defining metrics within the context of the style of the Hungarian team.
- The more threats the Hungarian team can create for the opponent, the more unsafe the opponent is. This is fairly well illustrated by the xG scores: 0.18 against Portugal, 0.44 against France and 0.78 against Germany. The xG figures are based on data from Fotmob.
- For the reasons explained above, the more possession the Hungarian team can have away from their own goal at times, the better they can deal with the opponent’s dominance of the ball in other phases of the game. This aspect should be examined by looking at the number of entries into the opponent’s defensive third: 15 against Portugal, 19 against France and 19 against Germany. The “Entrances to the opponent’s final third” figures are based on data from InStat.
“Finally. Now that I finally see you, I have someone to think about.”
The scenes of the two Hungarian goals, apart from the obvious joy they brought to Hungarian fans all over the world, have football-specific lessons beyond themselves. The first goal is a great revelation of Sallai’s attitude, movement, and unique personality. In addition, Ádám Szalai silenced his doubters for the tenth time or so, while László Kleinheisler once again proved that he is now aware of the different elements of the game, thanks in part to the character development background work of Attila Apró. On this goal, he also pointed out the strengths of his behavior in transitions: like a true modern midfielder, he immediately looks for the interceptional relationship between open spaces and being available to make a contact with the ball at the moment of possession, providing immediate assistance in the process of launching a counterattack.
There are also psychological lessons to be learned from this goal. Let us not forget, for the Hungarian team, only a win was enough to qualify to the next round, so it made a difference how they started the match. The Hungarian team started energetically, this time not only in defense but also on the counterattacks. This resulted in an early goal, creating the possibility of the unthinkable.
They finally scored an early goal, which is usually a characteristic only of teams in a different category.
The second hit also has a special message. We saw how the team was hit hard by the goal against Portugal, and just before the Hungarian match, the Slovaks fell apart against an overwhelming Spain. Only the mentally strongest, most prepared, and bravest teams are capable of what the Hungarian national team managed to achieve.
They managed to score a goal after conceding a goal, to bring shock after conceding a shock, practically from midfield, and again at the expense of the clever move of the “useless” and “clumsy” Ádám Szalai. The goal-scorer András Schäfer’s celebration said it all: the Hungarian team not only has composure, but they simply have no fear.
By the way, András Schäfer! It should be noted that I hope, that the face of this narrative-changing Hungarian team, as it was discussed in the first paragraph, will be András Schäfer just as much as Roland Sallai and Dominik Szoboszlai. After all, the performance of the former MTK player who burst onto the scene at the European Championships deserves respect. Not only has he been one of the most stable and balanced players in the Hungarian starting line-up since the friendly game against Cyprus, but his performances at the European Championships have seen Marco Rossi add another player who can and likes to pass, can and likes to look for combinations and can and likes to manage the available open spaces in both defense and attack. He embodies the next step, the future.
Finally, this team managed not to collapse, but reacted immediately to an experience of failure that was as bad as a low blow.
“Talk to me, tell me again that the world is a scandal. But tomorrow we must still live.”
Cliché but true: football is unfair. To put it less egocentrically: unpredictable. Just like the changing weather, the pace and direction of a forest’s growth, the pulse of a city, or the evolution of our entire universe. To accept this is almost absurd.
The fan feels it but does not want to put it right in his own mind: sometimes the team he loves concedes unexpected goals and loses important matchups. A bounced ball, an unawarded penalty, or even the slip of a defender trying to make a last second challenge gives the perfect excuse to deal with the unacceptable.
A player feels lost when he has nothing to hold onto, no reliable structure around him to fall back on, or no one on the sidelines to help him when the situation is opaque. The unpredictability of the game catches the footballer off the pitch like a storm and spits him out somewhere, in a place that is unexpected by all. This can be frightening, which is why some players react to their surroundings with great will, or the opposite, by avoiding interactions with the totality of the game.
For the coach, keeping the game under control causes obsession, often madness, but at the very least, overwhelming stress. The pain of accepting the inevitable, i.e., the randomness of the game, is mitigated by fragmenting the game, tactical meetings, scientific thinking, and a coaching style that, although useless, is certainly vehement. As a coach, I can tell you that this pain never goes away, it only eases. It is like any trauma; healing starts with acceptance.
All three irreplaceable actors in the game fell to their knees as one after Germany’s second equalizer. After a heroic fight, Ádám Szalai and his team capitulated after a repeatedly bouncing, repeatedly unlucky (unpredictable), and repeatedly fatal Goretzka shot. The Hungarian mind felt this outcome was unjust without any hesitation. So did I, so did everyone else.
But were we really unlucky?
In the video, in this one ugly moment, Adam Nagy’s character was revealed through his over-zealousness in helping his teammates, his self-sacrificing over-running habits, and his tactically incomprehensible baseline positioning during the fatal process of seeking control. Simply put: one of Hungary’s best wanted success so badly that he lost his composure, lost his tactical sense, and ran where he should not have.
All this because the incredible amount of stress, the “never really experienced this before” physical and mental activity levels that Hungarian footballers have been going through in recent days has unfortunately proved to be just a tad too much. And there is nothing to be ashamed of! In fact, Adam Nagy can be blamed, but he should not be. And the unpredictability of football continues to reign over us fans, players, and coaches. But at least Hungarians cannot blame their fans, players and/or coaches for that either.
“Look at me, and now see in me something other than what you have seen before: wake up!”
While I was writing this article, my father called me, and talking about the game, he said what I remember from my childhood, even after a Vilmos Sebők penalty goal against Lithuania, from the concrete ring of the Népstadion: “I tried to calm myself down, I didn’t want to get too excited, because the Germans are better anyway.”
Of course, this statement is as false as his level of excitement. He was indeed excited, he was shouting at the television, and he was also increasingly stressed while watching the match. Because that is the way it’s been going for decades: the Hungarian team is weak, underdogs against big teams, and doomed to suffer against small teams at any time. The Hungarian fan is afraid, worried, and cannot believe it when a Hungarian team is able to play strong, confident, and intelligent football.
Well, that was the end of an era for Marco Rossi and the Hungarian national football team. It is no exaggeration to say that we saw the end of a new beginning in the final moments of the match against Germany. Hear me out: it is no longer the beginning; it is now the era itself.
I am reporting that the Hungarian team is willing and able to play football on occasion, has strong characters who do not crumble under pressure, is self-sacrificing in all aspects of dynamics and synergies of team sports, and has a classy coach who can help the team through the toughest situations.
My message to my dear father, and to all Hungarian fans: it is time to be brave, to cheer with faith, to believe in these people, and to put an end once and for all to the traumas of the past, Malta, Andorra, Ibrahimovic and who knows what else.
I see something different in this team than what I have seen before.
The titles of the paragraphs were inspired by a popular Hungarian song writer, musician, and singer, named Ákos. This piece is dedicated to him and his music.
The original article appeared in Hungarian on Büntető.com. Click here to read!
Szakíró, futball-elemző, futball-teoretikus. Amerikában él és dolgozik lassan tíz éve, a norfolki Old Dominion University-n szerzett doktori szintű diplomát, de mindmáig a magyar futball szerelmese. A Richmond Kickers amerikai profi futballcsapat közvetlen utánpótlását jelentő Richmond Unitednél akadémiai edző.