One side is assured to make national history. Hungary is 44 years removed from its last deep excursion into the Euro quarterfinals, while Iceland’s trekking through uncharted territory when the two sides meet in Group F Saturday at Stade Velodrome in Marseille.
Head coach Bernd Storck’s side hadn’t qualified for the tournament since 1972’s fourth-place finish in West Germany, but following a 2-0 drubbing of border mate Austria the Hungarians can take a commanding lead in the group and assure their place in the next phase.
Behind Adam Szalai and Zoltan Stieber’s goals, Hungary overpowered the higher-ranked Austrians with blistering defense and generated eight shots on target, all while burgeoning midfielder Gergo Lovrencsics sat out with a knee injury.
Storck acknowledged his team’s underdog status after the win, calling it a “dream,” though Hungary won’t be the underrated squad against Iceland.
Lovrencsics is expected to sit out once again as Hungary seeks its fifth straight victory over Iceland. Over 10 matches in their all-time series, Hungary has prevailed seven times and Iceland only three, with all those wins coming between 1992 and 1995.
Iceland, however, is on a similar mission. Appearing in their first Euro tournament, co-head coaches Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson led their side to a surprising 1-1 draw against heavily favored Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Midfielder Birki Bjarnason, making his 48th appearance, provided the equalizer in the 50th minute, while Iceland’s defense managed to thwart 27 Portuguese shots and a 66-34 possession advantage.
Allowing the same amount of opportunities and realizing a similar result is unlikely to happen again, and while crediting Storck and his staff, Hallgrimsson admitted Iceland has a tall task ahead against an emerging Hungary.
“You can see how they are progressing as a squad and a team," he said. "They are a really compact and solid team, known for their defensive side of the game, but against Austria you could see how strong they are in attack.”
Prediction: Hungary 1-1 Iceland
Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN, ESPN Deportes (USA), SiminnSport, SkjarEinn (Iceland), M4 Sports (Hungary)
Live Stream: ESPN3