Success has eluded them at the FIFA U-20 World Cup four times in the past, but Hungary are hoping it will be fifth time lucky when they travel to Egypt for this year's showdown. After failing to survive the group stage in Tunisia (1977), Japan (1979), the USSR (1985) and Malaysia (1997), the young Hungarians are determined to make a maiden appearance in the knockout stages this time round.
"Reaching the quarters or the semis would be a huge achievement for Hungary. After all, we've not been at the finals for a very long time now," coach Sandor Egervari exclusively told FIFA.com. The 59-year-old took over from Dutch boss Wilco van Buuren in mid-August, leaving just a few short weeks to prepare for the tournament in North Africa. "Despite the lack of time, we're aiming to piece together a strong team. Some of my players have a little experience from the U-17 and U-19 European championships, but we still have a great deal to do."
Brazil and Euro trio as favourites
The extremely brief preparation period could pose a threat to the dream of making the last eight. "I don't have a lot of information about our group opponents UAE, South Africa and Honduras. All three come with their own footballing culture and style," Egervari observed.
The newly-installed coach sees neither his own team nor any of their group rivals in the role of favourites. Alongside Brazil, he reckons European trio Spain, Italy and Germany are the most likely to make the semi-finals. "But there are surprises at every tournament," he noted.His own side may be good for just such an upset. The balance and harmony in the team is their greatest asset. "The core of the team has been together since the players were 15, and they've been very successful."
At the U-19 European championships, Hungary opened with a 1-0 win over Bulgaria before overcoming four-time tournament winners Spain by the same score. However, Italy proved just a shade too strong in the semi-finals, winning by the only goal. "We're extremely pleased with what we achieved," reflected goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi. "The fact we made it so far is brilliant. It was a huge success for Hungarian football, but now we want to make our fans even happier - that's our goal." The Liverpool keeper rates as a future star of the Hungarian game, along with the likes of Andras Debreceni, Zsolt Korcsmar, Vladimir Koman and Krisztian Nemeth.
"These young players are on the threshold of careers in the professional game. This World Cup is a great chance for them to sign off as juniors in style. That's a real incentive and motivating factor for all of them," Egervari said, laying down a challenge to his young charges. "I hope we survive the group stage. How far we can progress after that depends on our opponents."
Eyes on 2010
At the end of our chat with the three-time Hungarian championship winner, we asked him for an assessment of the youth development system in his country. "In the last three or four years, a number of youth academies have opened all over the country. Thanks to our scouting network, and the excellent work put in by my predecessors, we've produced a couple of very promising generations, including the current U-20 team. We don't have enough players in Hungary, so our work in this area takes on even more importance."
It is conceivable that a clutch of the U-20 squad will be returning to Africa fairly soon, as the senior Hungary side is well-placed to claim a berth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. That, surely, would be the ultimate incentive and motivating factor.