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.
Though Marco Rossi will be without first-choice forward Roland Sallai, who missed out on another Hungary call-up because of a recent eye injury, MLS-based Daniel Gazdag deputised on Friday and could do so again versus Italy.
Dominik Szoboszlai will also start in support of centre-forward and captain Adam Szalai, who bids an emotional farewell to the home fans in his final game for the Magyars.
Loic Nego is likely to feature at right wing-back, with teenager Milos Kerkez hoping to build on his senior debut in Leipzig by keeping his place on the left; regular starter Zsolt Nagy is injured.
Meanwhile, after a somewhat makeshift side managed to get the better of England at San Siro, Italy are likely to persist with their 3-5-2 setup and similar personnel.
As midfield trio Marco Verratti, Sandro Tonali and Lorenzo Pellegrini, plus Napoli winger Matteo Politano, all withdrew from the squad due to injury, Davide Frattesi and Manolo Gabbiadini were called up as replacements – the latter ending an international exile of some five years.
West Ham United striker Gianluca Scamacca was given his fourth start for the Azzurri – replacing last season’s Serie A top scorer Ciro Immobile, who missed out in Milan with a thigh problem – and could partner his former Sassuolo teammate Giacomo Raspadori again if Immobile cannot recover in time.
While Frattesi competes with Roma’s Bryan Cristante for a place in the visitors’ midfield, wing-backs Federico Dimarco and Giovanni Di Lorenzo are set to remain in place due to a paucity of other contenders after both Cristante’s clubmate Leonardo Spinazzola and the versatile Manuel Lazzari were omitted from Roberto Mancini’s latest selection.
Hungary possible starting lineup:
Gulacsi; Lang, Orban, At. Szalai; Fiola, Schafer, Gazdag, Kerkez; A. Nagy, Szoboszlai; Ad. Szalai
Italy possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Toloi, Bonucci, Bastoni; Di Lorenzo, Barella, Jorginho, Frattesi, Dimarco; Raspadori, Immobile