Szalai is Hungary’s Euro breakout prospect

Rising star: Attila Szalai (right) scored three goals in 22 appearances for Fenerbahce this season. — Reuters

BUDAPEST: Euro 2020 outsiders Hungary’s prospects in a daunting Group F may largely depend on Leipzig duo Peter Gulacsi and Willi Orban keeping stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe at bay.

But a new defensive stalwart has come on board in Fenerbahce’s Attila Szalai, 23, a regular fixture in the Hungary team since making his debut under coach Marco Rossi in 2019.

With Hungary’s most creative player Dominik Szoboszlai – also at Leipzig – out through injury, Szalai told Hungarian media he “expects to be busy” tackling star-studded opponents.

The modest Magyars face title holders Portugal (June 15) and world champions France (June 19) in the Puskas Arena in Budapest, before taking on Germany in Munich (June 23).

“But we want to cause a surprise, and win at least a point, or better still several points,” the powerful centreback, who can also play on the left, said.

Tall and broad-shouldered, his career has ascended swiftly from humble beginnings.

Still playing for lowly Hungarian side Mezokovesd just two years ago he moved first to Cypriot side Apollon Limassol in June 2019, before joining Turkish giants Fenerbahce last January.

Quickly established as a fan favourite at the Istanbul club, Szalai, who likes to roam forward and join set-pieces, scored three goals in 22 appearances this season.

“It would be the greatest day of my life if I scored a goal for the national team,” said Szalai.

The defender’s “seamless transition from Cyprus to the Turkish top tier has been impressive,” Hungarian football journalist Gergely Marosi said.

“He has also stood out with commanding performances for Hungary, has a good chemistry with defensive partner Willi Orban, and proved he can hold his ground against tough opposition,” said Marosi. — AFP

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