MARSEILLE, France (Reuters) - Having been in soccer’s doldrums for nearly half a century, Hungary are a whisker away from reaching the Euro 2016 knockout stages after a patient and almost forgotten approach bore fruit in a 1-1 draw against Hungary on Saturday.
The Hungarians, who finished fourth in the 1972 European Championship after reaching the last eight in the 1966 World Cup, at times rekindled memories of the famous generation of players who reached the 1954 World Cup final.
Captain Balazs Dzsudzsak, the team’s most talented player, would not have looked out of place in the teams of the legendary Ferenc Puskas, whose “light cavalry” instilled primal fear in the hearts of traditional soccer heavyweights in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Dzsudzsak pulled the strings as Hungary, seemingly bound to end up as another victim of Iceland’s simple but effective long-ball strategy, reaped the rewards for their crisp passing against a rugged defense.
The Hungarians enjoyed the lion’s share of possession throughout but Iceland, the tournament’s upstarts playing on the big stage for the first time, used route one to devastating effect in the first half.
Every long ball and cross driven into the penalty area rocked the Hungarians and it was hardly surprising that it produced the penalty which Gylfi Sigurdsson converted after a glaring error by goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly.
The Nordic nation’s strategy had unnerved even the likes of triple World Cup finalists Netherlands, who failed to reach the European Championship after twice losing to the battling Icelanders in qualifying.
For much of the second half it looked like Iceland would again triumph on the back of a flawless defensive performance and packed midfield always a step ahead of their rivals to clear the danger, albeit with some desperate last-gasp interventions.
But with time running out Hungary resorted to Iceland’s game as they started pumping teasing crosses into the penalty area which kept evading their forwards.
Just as Iceland were ready to celebrate what would have been their first win in a major tournament and with their iconic stalwart Eidur Gudjohnsen on as a late substitute, their resistance finally cracked.
It took a crafty sweeping move down the right flank, so reminiscent of the Hungary of old, to snatch a vital point, although it was unspectacularly secured by a Birkir Saevarsson own goal.
Editing by Ed Osmond