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The formula for success that can get Hungary back on track at EURO 2024

Can Szoboszlai and Hungary turn things around?
Can Szoboszlai and Hungary turn things around?AFP
Hungary could hardly have had a worse start to Euro 2024. They kicked off with a 3-1 defeat to Switzerland and have now won just two of their 12 matches at the European Championships (four draws, six losses), a win rate of 17%. Among nations that have played over five games at the finals, only Romania (12%) and Poland (13%) have a lower win percentage. Nevertheless, the Magyars should not be underestimated or written off. Let's take a look at what characterises them under coach Marco Rossi (59).

Stable defence

Hungary have lost two of their last three matches (one win), suffering as many defeats as they did in the 21 games before that (13 wins, six draws and two losses). In the defeat to Switzerland, Rossi's side conceded three goals in a match for the first time in almost three years (since September 2021, when they lost 4-0 against England in the World Cup qualifiers) so it is fair to say that defensive play is usually one of Hungary's strengths. 

In the eight qualifying matches for Euro 2024, the Magyars kept three clean sheets and conceded an average of just 0.9 goals per game (seven goals conceded). In addition, the Hungarians did not concede a single goal in the 2024 Euro qualifiers from an opposition High Turnover.

They also remained unbeaten in qualifying for Euro 2024, winning five games and drawing three. It was the first time they had gone through an entire European Championship qualifying group without defeat – and the first time they had won a European Championship qualifying group.

Goal threat from set pieces

In attack, the Magyars were convincing, among other things, through set pieces.

They scored the most set-piece goals of any side during the Euro 2024 qualifiers (excluding penalties), scoring seven from such situations (three corners, three free-kicks, and one direct free-kick). They have even scored 50% of their goals from set pieces in recent qualifiers (eight out of 16), which is the joint highest proportion among the current European Championship participants (together with the Czech Republic). In absolute terms, no other team in the qualifying phase scored more from set pieces than Hungary (eight). 

It was the same style of play that Hungary employed in their first Euro 2024 group game against Switzerland. Half of Hungary’s total of six shots came after a set-piece, one attempted by their defensive leader Willi Orban and two by attacker Roland Sallai.

Left is the favoured side of attack

Most of Hungary's attacking play takes place on the left wing.

The focus of Hungary's attacks
The focus of Hungary's attacksOpta

In the European Championship qualifiers 2024 almost 45% of Hungary's attacking touches took place in the left third of the opponent's half, and in the opener against Switzerland, more than half of Hungary's attacks went down the left wing (54%).

The focus is on the captain and star player Dominik Szoboszlai, who is very active on the left flank in the Hungarian national team:

Szoboszlai's heat map in qualifying
Szoboszlai's heat map in qualifyingOpta

Szoboszlai's strong involvement makes the Liverpool star worth taking a closer look at. At the age of 23, he leads Hungary at Euro 2024 as the youngest captain of the tournament – nominally followed by France's Kylian Mbappe at the age of 25. 

Szoboszlai was directly involved in more goals than any other Hungary player in qualifying (four goals, three assists). He also topped his side’s charts for chances created (23), shots attempted (28), shots on target (13), successful passes in the opposition half (256), expected goals (3.1) and expected assists (two).

In the Euro 2024 qualifiers, he was by far the Hungarian player involved in the most open-play shot-ending sequences (49). 16 times he fired a shot himself, 15 times he provided the final pass prior to a shot and a further 18 times he distributed the ball in the build-up before finishing.

The players most involved in Hungary's attacks in qualifying
The players most involved in Hungary's attacks in qualifyingOpta

Another of Szoboszlai's strengths is his ability to create shooting opportunities outside the penalty area. He fired 21 shots from outside the penalty area in the most recent European Championship qualifiers – only Greece's Anastasios Bakasetas had more shots from distance in the entire qualifying campaign (27).

Dangerous Varga

In addition to Willy Orban, who holds the defence together as the defensive leader, another player stands out in the attack alongside Szoboszlai: Barnabas Varga.

He scored Hungary's goal in the European Championship opener against Switzerland to make him the fifth player to score on his European Championship debut for Hungary, after Ferenc Bene (1964), Dezso Novak (1964), Adam Szalai (2016), and Zoltan Stieber (2016).

But the 29-year-old Ferencvaros striker was not only compelling in the defeat against the Swiss. He has scored seven goals in just nine starts for Hungary in all competitions. He could become only the second player to score in both of his first two European Championship appearances for the nation, after Bene in 1964.

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