Having held their own against the big boys during the most recent continental championships, Hungary begin their bid to qualify for Euro 2024 at home to Bulgaria in Monday’s Group G battle at the Puskas Arena.
Both sides were involved in one-goal contests last time out, as Marco Rossi’s men got the better of Estonia in a friendly, while the visitors went down to Montenegro in their Group C opener.
Expected to assume the role of whipping boys in their Euro 2020 section with Portugal, France and Germany, few eyebrows were raised when Hungary went down 3-0 to the former on the opening day, but neither the 2014 nor 2018 world champions could get the better of Rossi’s dogged and determined side.
Taking two points from their two contests with Germany and France, Hungary travelled back to their headquarters with plenty of pats on the back, and it was a similar story for the Magyars during their 2022-23 UEFA Nations League campaign against the Germans, Italy and England.
A pair of defeats to the Euro 2020 champions aside, Hungary did the double over England – including that 4-0 embarrassment at Molineux – while taking four points from a possible six against Germany, further establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with once again as they stayed put in League A.
Few sparks flew during the hosts’ recent friendly with Estonia, though – where only a Martin Adam header could separate the two outfits in a slender 1-0 success – but Rossi’s resilient outfit have proven that they are not ones to be underestimated when the going gets tough.
Furthermore, six of the Magyars’ last seven Euro qualifying home matches have ended in victory – the outlier being a 2-1 loss to Slovakia in 2019 – with the likes of Norway, Wales and Croatia all falling to Hungary’s superiority in the past several years.
A positive end to the calendar year saw Bulgaria string together a six-game unbeaten run across all tournaments, but Mladen Krstajic’s 2023 did not get off to the brightest of starts when Montenegro came to town for their opening qualification contest.
With only two places separating the teams in the world rankings, a tightly-fought battle was always going to be on the menu, but the Bulgarians were on the wrong side of that 1-0 scoreline – succumbing to a Nikola Krstovic strike 20 minutes from time.
The Lions may have appropriately enjoyed the lion’s share of possession on their own patch – 63% to be exact – but failing to convert such dominance into anything meaningful leaves them fourth in the Group G standings and already fighting an uphill battle to upset the top-two apple cart.
With Serbia expected to encounter little resistance en route to a first-placed finish, the race for second between Hungary, Bulgaria and Montenegro ought to be a fierce one, and Krstajic’s side can take inspiration from a five-game unbeaten run away from home – keeping clean sheets in their last four.
Still waiting for their first major tournament appearance since Euro 2004 – when they went out in the groups – Bulgaria have suffered just one defeat from their last six meetings with Hungary, although that was in their most recent fixture, a 3-1 reverse during Euro 2020 qualification.
Hungary form (all competitions):
Bulgaria Euro Champ Qualifying form:
Bulgaria form (all competitions):
We say: Hungary 2-0 Bulgaria
Bulgaria may have impressively held their own on rival territory over the course of the past few months, but unlike in the animal kingdom, the Lions are the underdogs here.
With a penchant for goals at the Puskas Arena, Hungary are only on an upward trajectory and should encounter few difficulties en route to a straightforward opening win.