Life without Nemeth for Hungary
© AFP

When they first arrived in Egypt, Hungary were something of an unknown quantity. Having qualified by dint of their semi-final finish in the 2008 UEFA U-19 European Championship, the Magyars had stepped out from the shadows to arrive at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Rumours were circulating, however, that the little-known Hungarians had unearthed two gems in the form of midfielder and captain Vladimir Koman, and forward Krisztian Nemeth.

And as it turned out, their star pairing were the only players who managed to make an impression in Hungary’s heavy 3-0 opening defeat to Honduras.

So when Nemeth emerged from the dressing room with his right ankle heavily strapped ahead of the warm-up for Hungary’s second match against South Africa, coach Sandor Egervari’s concern was palpable.

The forward, on loan to AEK Athens from Liverpool, told FIFA.com, "I felt my ankle twist after a tackle in the Honduras match. It’s a sprain – nothing too serious but I don’t know how long it’ll take to heal. It could be a few days, maybe a week, it’s hard to say."

Krisztian is a fantastic player, one of our best, but the rest of us aren’t bad either.
Marko Futacs, Hungary forward.

The big question in the wake of Nemeth's injury was how Hungary would cope in the absence of one of their star players. Their 4-0 dismissal of South Africa provided a categorical answer. 

"I think the scoreline says a lot," grins Marko Futacs, the stand-in forward who proved to be a real handful against the South Africans. "Krisztian (Nemeth) is a fantastic player, one of our best, but the rest of us aren’t bad either (laughs)".

"It’s true that he was a big loss," continues team-mate Andras Simon, "But we used it as a way to prove that we have strength throughout the squad. The match showed that even without one of our best players, we can still pull together and perform at a very high level."

Having bounced back strongly from their disastrous opening match, the Hungarians have now begun to dream of glory. Futacs demonstrates just how ambitious they are: "It wasn’t perfect, we can do better. And since we want to win the tournament, we’re going to show just how well we can play."

But before they start dusting down the trophy cabinet, the young players must first ensure qualification from a very tight Group F. With three points in the bag to date, they know that a draw against the already-qualified UAE will be enough to see them into the Round of 16.

But the Magyars are not content with just scraping through: "It won’t be easy, but we want to win the group as that’s the only way to prove our first match was just a one-off," says Simon. "We’ll have to find some new attacking options since Andras (Gosztonyi) is suspended, but I’m not worried. We’ve already shown that we’re a close-knit group with good strength in depth." So despite their setbacks, the Hungarians are forging ahead and seem to be relishing the tough tests to come.