Monday 19 March 2018

Austria-Hungary 'needle' puts Ronaldo in shade

Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: PA Wire
Cristiano Ronaldo. Photo: PA Wire

Glenn Moore

Cristiano Ronaldo makes his entrance at Euro 2016 tonight, in the last of the opening round of matches, but he will not be the centre of attention as Group F begins.

In St Etienne the focus will be on Portugal's opponents, the smallest nation to reach a major finals, the volcanic outcrop Iceland.

Iceland's rise is largely down to an investment in coach education and facilities that should embarrass many associations, but also to their coach, Lars Lagerback. The veteran Swede has raised temperatures by describing Ronaldo and Pepe as capable of being Hollywood actors.

Prior to this match Bordeaux will host the Habsburg derby, as students of central European history would dub Austria's tie with Hungary. This brings together two of Continent's footballing pioneers, long since fallen on hard times, but now enjoying minor revivals. Hungary had a golden era in the 1950s, and Austria had a great side in the '30s.

This is the first time Austria have qualified for the Euros (they attended in 2008 as co-hosts) and Hungary's first finals since 1972. They did play in the World Cup in 1986, but lost their opening game 6-0 to the Soviet Union.

Their return to the stage has been given added spice by facing each other. The neighbours were once part of an empire which for centuries ruled from Bavaria to Romania with parts of Italy and the Low Countries in addition.

"There is needle given the history between the countries," admitted Austria's captain, Leicester City defender Christian Fuchs.

Hungary remain heavily reliant on two veterans. In goal will be 40-year-old Gabor Kiraly, once of Crystal Palace, who will become the oldest man to play in a Euro. Former West Brom and Fulham midfielder, Zoltan Gera, now 37, also feature.

Austria have a core of German Bundesliga players.

Portugal, seeking a sixth successful quarter-final, are favourites to top the group.

Independent News Service

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