16.05.2016 03:48 h

Five things on Hungary ahead of Euro 2016

Five things on Hungary ahead of the European Championship finals -- the country's first major football tournament since the 1986 World Cup.

The best side in the world in the early 1950s when Puskas, Kocsis, Hidegkuti and co. were in their prime, it has been downhill all the way since then.

Although midfield maestro Florian Albert led a formidable team to the 1966 World Cup quarter-finals, the sides that reached World Cups in 1978, 1982 and 1986, all fell at the first hurdle.

The current crop is a pale shadow of even those 1980s teams, boasting no major star or even any regular first-teamers in the top five European leagues.

Hungary's soccer-mad premier Viktor Orban has pumped millions of dollars into football in a bid to resurrect the glory days, and green shoots are slowly appearing.

Uniquely in Eastern Europe, shiny new stadia are being built nationwide, while qualification for France has already seen an increase by scouts in Hungarian football.

Promising youngsters like Adam Nagy, 20, of Ferencvaros are expected to move abroad after the Euros.

After a calamitous home defeat to Northern Ireland in the Euro 2016 qualification opener, former Hertha Berlin dynamo Pal Dardai replaced Attila Pinter as coach.

Dardai shored up the team's defence and kept Hungary in the hunt for France, but returned to Berlin mid-campaign after handing over the reins to ex-Dortmund defender Bernd Storck.

Storck, 53, assisted by 1990 World Cup winner Andy Moeller, won over sceptical fans when his risky selection of debutant Laszlo Kleinheisler for the playoff first-leg against Norway paid off handsomely: the 22 year-old red-head, nicknamed the Hungarian Paul Scholes, scored the only goal of the game in Oslo.

Although technically limited, Hungary have been well-organised and difficult to beat since Dardai and now Storck took over.

With a defence anchored by sweatpants-wearing goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly -- at 40 he will be the oldest player to grace a Euro finals -- the team's creative heart beats around its captain Balazs Dzsudzsak, who plays club football with Bursapor in Turkey, and the terrier-like Kleinheisler, who was snapped up by Werder Bremen soon after scoring against Norway.

Written off by pundits, and likely to be under-estimated by opponents, the Magyar's hunger for success after three decades in the wilderness could see them sneak a surprise result in France.

While success-starved Hungarian fans are praying that the players will rise to the occasion, some fear their lack of big tournament nous may see them freeze when they finally take to the big stage. Solid defensively, for goals the side is over-reliant on free-kicks by Dzsudzsak and bulky centre-forwards like Bundesliga side Hoffenheim's Adam Szalai, currently on loan to Hannover 96. Szalai has been off-form all season though, while Storck's other options up front all ply their trades for modest Eastern European outfits.