Deciding both teams’ destiny in the UEFA Nations League, a crucial clash between Hungary and Italy on Monday sees the pair battle for a place in next summer’s finals.
While the hosts’ latest upset of a top European nation sees them two points clear at the top of League A Group 3, the Azzurri’s win over England means they can snatch first place with victory in Budapest.
Concluding their latest Nations League group-stage campaign, Hungary have once again defied expectations to begin the final round in prime position to beat Germany, England and Italy to Group 3 supremacy.
After four games in June, the Magyars resumed with another eye-catching result on the first of two matchdays this month, as they defeated Hansi Flick’s side in Leipzig on Friday.
A Bundesliga mainstay over the past decade – though now plying his trade in the Swiss Super League – veteran striker Adam Szalai scored the only goal in the 17th minute, directing a clever back-heeled flick into the corner of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s net.
Having played such a prominent role in handing Flick a first loss in charge of the Germans, the 34-year-old later announced his retirement would come after Hungary’s final group game, back in Budapest.
His time in the red jersey therefore draws to a close as his team host Italy, knowing even a draw sees them through to the Nations League’s latter stages for the first time.
Should they slip up and miss out on Monday, Hungary’s record in Europe’s newest international competition would still make impressive reading: when the inaugural tournament kicked off in 2018 they started in the third tier, but successive promotions have seen them rise to League A status.
Now, the once-more ‘Mighty Magyars’, are within touching distance of qualifying for next June’s finals; in part making up for their failure to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar.
Like Hungary, the visitors were unable to reach this winter’s global gathering in the Middle East, but can at least qualify for the Nations League finals with the right result at the Puskas Arena.
Victory is the only option for Roberto Mancini’s men, who kept themselves in contention by edging out England in a drab encounter in Milan on Friday night, Napoli striker Giacomo Raspadori scoring the decisive goal midway through the second half.
As a result, the Azzurri sit two points adrift of their opponents, who they managed to beat 2-1 in Cesena earlier this year, handing Hungary their only Group 3 defeat.
While an unheralded Italian coach, Marco Rossi, has taken the Hungarians to new heights – following Euro 2020 qualification with a double win over now-relegated England and taking four points off Germany – his compatriots have laboured since winning the Euros just over a year ago.
Not only did Italy suffer the ignominy of a World Cup playoff exit to North Macedonia, but they have also been beaten by three-goal margins in both the ‘Finalissima’ against South American champions Argentina and in their most recent away fixture – a 5-2 crushing by the Germans.
Indeed, they have posted just five wins from their last 15 matches all told, but seemingly out of nowhere, a slim chance of redemption has appeared for a squad undergoing transition before taking the road to Euro 2024.
After finishing third in the Nations League’s previous edition, La Nazionale can yet go further and lift their second trophy in the space of two years, but such hopes depend on taking maximum points on Monday.
Hungary Nations League form:
Hungary form (all competitions):
Italy Nations League form:
Italy form (all competitions):
We say: Hungary 1-1 Italy
Persistent overachievers, Hungary are buoyed by their first competitive win over Germany since the 1954 World Cup, and fear no national side after their recent exploits. Injury-hit Italy remain a squad needing a post-Euros overhaul, and will fall short of the win required to reach the Nations League finals.