The Hungary national team climbed an impressive 18 places to 27th spot in the September edition of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings, the first time they have featured among the top 30 since the system was introduced in 1993.
The 1954 FIFA World Cup™ finalists have a string of positive recent results to thank for their rapid rise. Ever since two UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying defeats against the Netherlands in March, the Magyars have bounced back with aplomb.
After beating Luxembourg 1-0 and San Marino 3-0 in June, Sandor Egervari's side really began to make strides with a 4-0 success against Iceland in mid-August. A highly commendable 2-1 victory over Sweden was then followed by a 2-0 win against Moldova at the beginning of this month.
"Nobody thought we could beat Sweden, but we believed in ourselves and had the fans behind us," said Gergely Rudolf, whose tally in qualifying for next summer's continental showpiece is now six goals after netting the winner against the Scandinavians.
Hungary's two most recent successes have kept them in firm contention for a place in Poland and Ukraine next year. The side captained by Zoltan Gera currently lie third on 18 points in Group E, with the Netherlands and Sweden above them. A play-off berth or even direct qualification as one of the best runners-up is certainly within reach.
Nobody expected us to get out of this group, but now we've got more than just a chance.
Either scenario would require a little assistance from Finland and the Netherlands, who each play Sweden in October, while Hungary must take three points from their final fixture against the Finns. "Nobody expected us to get out of this group, but now we've got more than just a chance," said striker Imre Szabics. "Still, we have to hope that other teams slip up."
Should the eastern Europeans indeed make it to EURO 2012, it would be their first appearance at a major international tournament since 1986, when they bowed out in the group stage of the FIFA World Cup in Mexico. Their last European Championship was the 1972 edition in Belgium, where they reached the semi-finals.
Since then qualifying has proven somewhat tougher, but now the Hungarians are ready to take the next step under coach Egervari, who has revived the team's fortunes since taking over from Erwin Koeman as head coach in August 2010. Back then the Magyars were down in 62nd place in the ranking after being pipped to a place at South Africa 2010 by Denmark and Portugal.
Blending young and old
Ten wins and four defeats later and Hungary are up 35 places in the table, though arguably more signficant than their FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking is the fact that the squad is finally beginning to reap the rewards for months of hard work.
Coach Egervari has succeeded in finding a balance between young, hungry players and experienced campaigners. Goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, captain Gera, midfielder Tamas Hajnal and striker Rudolf form the backbone of the side, which is complemented by the likes Balazs Dzsudszsak, Roland Juhasz, Adam Szalai and Szabics.
It all bodes well for the Brazil 2014 qualification campaign, in which the Egervari's charges have again been drawn alongside the Netherlands, as well as Turkey, Romania, Estonia and Andorra. With a steady stream of talented youngsters also emerging, Hungary have every reason to anticipate a bright international future.