Four months after the tournament was initially scheduled to conclude, the 24-team field for what shall still be known as "Euro 2020" is finally complete.
Bundesliga starters, Peter Gulasci (RB Leipzig), Will Orban (also Leipzig) and Roland Sallai (SC Freiburg) punched a ticket directly into the German national team's group with Hungary's 2-1 win over Iceland.
Whether or not red-hot attacking midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai (RB Salzburg) is headed to the Bundesliga, the 20-year-old phenom is definitely on a collision course with Germany.
|Dominik Szoboszlai.||Photo: Werner100359, CC-by-SA 4.0|
It has not been the greatest club year for Hungarian national team captain Adam Szalai. A dust up with former trainer Achim Beierlorzer led to his demotion to the FSV Mainz 05 youth team and a crippling team revolt. While the 32-year-old has since been allowed to train once again with the first team, the former Bundesliga star remains as of yet unused by the Pfälzer.
A perceived form dip that led to his very sparse starting XI usage last season and effective exile in this campaign never led current Magyar trainer Marco Rossi to consider stripping him of his captain's armband, however. It stands likely that Szalai will sport the sign of the skipper when his country faces off against Germany in a critical Group F fixture on June 23rd, 2021.
The Hungarian national team actually had to line up without Rossi in their play-off fixture against Iceland. The Italian Gaffer could not prowl the sidelines after receiving a positive COVID test earlier in the week. Assistant coach Cosimo Inguscio built a 3-5-2 spearheaded by Szalai and Freiburg's Roland Sallai. Leipzig's Willi Orban ran pivot from the defensive line.
The Icelandic visitors jumped out to an early lead in Budapest, with Leipzig keeper Peter Gulasci letting in something of a howler off a free kick from Everton's Gylfi Sigurosson. After falling behind already in the 11th, the hosts mounted a spirited effort at a comeback. Several rapid fire chances emerged between the 22nd and 25th, with both Orban and Sallai having headers saved by sturdy Icelandic keeper Hannes Thor Halldorsson.
The trademark collective Icelandic 4-5-1 found itself put under serious strain throughout most of the match's duration. Despite the fact the the Hungarian's were by far the stronger side in possession, it looked as if the "thunderclap trap" might close down a favored opponent once again. Erik Hamren's men always acted to close down the attacking lanes at the pivotal moment before Hungary could get a chance on goal.
Szalai and Sallai could only manage to get small attacking pinpricks through in the 82nd and 85th. With time rapidly running out, Iceland's 1-0 lead continued to hold. Burnley's Johann Gudmundsson nearly put the matter beyond all doubt, but missed on a golden opportunity to put the game to bed in 87th. Substitute Loic Nego would then level the score on a counter seconds later.
Matters stood at 1-1 for four long minutes until RB Salzburg, and possibly future RB Leipzig attacker, smashed home an absolute screamer from 18 meters out at 90+2. Hungary essentially ripped the EM-ticket straight out of the hands of their opponent at the death.
Elsewhere in the final Euro 2020 qualifying matches, the newly minted country of North Macedonia (the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) is headed to its first major international tournament after defeating former Soviet Satellite Georgia 1-0. The Red Lynxes will play in Group C with the Netherlands, the Ukraine, and Austria.
It took extra time to separate Slovakia from Northern Ireland, but Ondrej Duda and his falcons are headed back to Europe after beating the Great Britain side 2-1. The Slovaks will play Sweden, Poland, and Spain in the group stage.
Extra time and more was needed to find a winner in the Scotland-Serbia match. Steve Clarke's Scotsmen had to be perfect in the penalty shootout, converting all of their spot kicks through the first five rounds before a miss from Fulham's Aleksandr Mitrovic finally allowed them to declare the long curse dead.
Scotland return to the European Championship for the first time in 24 years and qualify for their first major international tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France. They will get a chance to square off against historic rivals England as well as Croatia and the Czech Republic in Group D.