Glory years are a distant memory for fallen pair
In part, it is a matter of size. If success in football is, as Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski claim in Soccernomics, a matter of population multiplied by GDP multiplied by football experience, then it must be accepted that there is only so much you can do with a population of a little under 10 million (in Hungary’s case) and a little over 5 million (in Scotland’s).
And yet still that does not feel wholly adequate as an explanation. These were two teams who, the previous week, had lost at home to Kazakhstan and Costa Rica; they looked like it. Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna had a good game on Tuesday and the goalkeeper Allan McGregor of Hull City made a couple of decent saves, but the left wingback, Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson, stood out as the one truly top-class player on the pitch. It is a frustrating quirk for Scotland that their two best players, Robertson and Celtic’s Kieran Tierney, who was injured, both prefer to play at left-back.
But at least Scotland, even if they have not been to a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, still produce players who can operate at the highest level. Hungary’s decline is such that there only outfielder who has been near a top club in recent years, the left-sided midfielder Balazs Dzsudzsak who was at PSV and then Dinamo Moscow, is now 31 and playing in the UAE. Laszlo Kleinheisler, the midfielder whose energy was so vital in the play-off against Norway to qualify for Euro 2016, looks as raw at 23 as he always did, and conceded a penalty, missed by Charlie Mulgrew, with an entirely needless challenge in the corner of the box.
The economics of modern European football do not help, dragging whatever talent there is to the big leagues of Spain, England, Germany and Italy, but that is only part of the problem. Nor is it just an issue of a small population and the natural cycles that must exist as a result. Local governance, in some way, must be at fault, but finding actual solutions is much harder than pointing a finger. What was clear on Tuesday, though, was the profound sense of loss, of a glory that in 60 years has simply disappeared.