Tuesday sees the final group get underway in Euro 2016 and despite some people claiming there is a lack of quality in Group F, it should be a cracker. Kicking off the action is a derby between two former European greats in footballing terms and gives history fans a chance to say “Austria-Hungary” without solely referring to eighteenth-century empire…
Austria: Almer, Dragović, Fuchs, Klein, Prödl, Baumgartlinger, Alaba, Harnik, Junuzović, Janko, Arnautović
Hungary: Király, Lang, Fiola, Pintér, Korhut, Nagy, Elek, Kleinheisler, Dzsudzsák, Németh, Gera
Austria are a team that many have tipped to be dark horses in this tournament due to the undoubtedly world-class ability of David Alaba and the mercurial talents of Stoke City’s Marko Arnautović. Despite appearing in the 2008 edition of the Euros as co-hosts, 2016 is the first tournament that Austria has managed to qualify for since the France 1998 World Cup. When they finally managed it, though, they qualified in style, winning all but one of their games in a group that included Sweden, Russia and Montenegro, scoring a mighty 22 goals and conceding just five throughout their ten games.
Austria have a strong spine, with Dragović, Alaba, Arnautović and Janko offering strength and quality in their positions. They also press their opponents high up the pitch, using their pace and stamina to employ a version of gegen-pressing on the international stage. However, they might be susceptible to injuries to their better players as the star-quality in their first team doesn’t quite run all the way through the squad. Their midfield, in particular, is thin on the ground, and one or two suspensions or injuries could derail their progression in the tournament. Nevertheless, starting their tournament with a win to set themselves up for their clash with Portugal is key.
Standing in their way in their way in the first game are Hungary. They qualified for Euro 2016 by finishing third in the same qualification group as Northern Ireland, before going on to beat Norway 3-1 in the two-legged play-offs. This is their first European Championships since 1972 and they are very much underdogs for their group and for the tournament. That said, the draw has been relatively kind by including Iceland in their group and with the new expanded format that has been introduced for Euro 2016 their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages of the tournament are much higher than they otherwise would be. A win against Iceland could see them in with a chance of progressing, especially if they can pinch a draw against one of Austria or Portugal.
However, goalkeeper aside (Hungary’s likely starting ‘keeper Király is 40), Hungary have a young defence which might hurt their solidity and mean they fall foul of the attacking talents of Austria and other big teams. They conceded nine goals in their qualification campaign but they do at least score goals. They are particularly dangerous from set-pieces, with star-man Balász Dzsudzsák able to deliver dangerous crosses and shots on goal from free-kicks. This will be relied on heavily by the Hungarians, who do not have the pace to play on the counter nor the technical ability to pass the ball through a team and into the net. This generation of Hungarian players will forever be in the shadows of the Mighty Magyars of the 1950s and it is a sign of how far their star has fallen that qualification for the knockout rounds would be seen as an ideal scenario for them.
This game could see goals. Austria’s attacking options are fierce and the majority of their creative talent plies their trade in the top leagues of Europe, something that will cause worries for Hungary’s young and inexperienced defence. Key-defender Tamás Kádár is carrying an injury and is a doubt for the game, meaning that most of the experience has been shorn from Hungary’s defence. Expect Alaba, Arnautović and Janko to have some fun running at Hungary and whatever you do, don’t bet on a 0-0!
In all likelihood, based on form and the quality (on paper) of the two squads, Austria should come out victorious in this fixture. Hungary are the underdogs for a reason but that doesn’t mean they are a write-off. If they can keep Austria at bay and win a few set pieces around Austria’s penalty box, a shock could be on the cards.