BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s Euro 2020 participation came down to a supercharged moment last November, when they beat Iceland to secure the last spot in the 24-nation finals thanks to a last-second goal by 20-year-old Dominik Szoboszlai.
Iceland had taken an early lead and Hungary did not equalise until the 88th minute in what Szoboszlai, one of the most promising young talents in Europe, expected to be the “match of my life”.
It was as if he had known his clutch goal was coming.
The midfielder took a long pass on the left in the 93rd minute, sprinted forward and veered sharply to centre field before netting a powerful bouncing shot through a cluster of defenders and past goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson to earn his side a 2-1 victory.
“I saw four guys in front of me,” Szoboszlai said. “I thought, I’m 20 metres off, it’s the last minute, why not shoot? Thank God, it worked… it was (late) but at least they had no chance to answer.”
It was the youngster’s first international goal for a team built on robust defence and efficient counter-attacks to make up for a relative lack of talent.
Szoboszlai was bound for the Bundesliga, where RB Leipzig bought him for 20 million euros the following month, making the midfielder the most expensive Hungarian player ever.
At Leipzig he joined Hungary goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and centre back Willi Orban, two more Hungarians who play for clubs outside their country which has not produced major international players for decades.
Szoboszlai has been sidelined with thigh muscle problems since the start of the year but joined the Leipzig squad for full training last week.
He is unlikely to have any competitive match action by a June 1 deadline set by Hungary coach Marco Rossi, but he should be fit to take his place in the squad.
The son of a professional footballer, Szoboszlai was trained privately by his father, who set up an academy for him.
Sent to play in the Red Bull franchise in Austria at age 16, Szoboszlai rose through the ranks and became a regular starter at Salzburg, teaming up with Norway striker Erling Haaland to help the team win several Austrian titles.
Szoboszlai’s European Championship debut should come against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo on June 15 in Budapest and his country will be hoping he can provide more moments of clutch-time inspiration.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Ed Osmond)