Hungary – Portugal: Portugal Eventually Break Through (0-3)

Portugal’s possession play was not the strongest, but their reliance on individual ability in attack was able to create them a couple of reasonable chances in the first half. They were defensively stable enough to contain Hungary’s attack despite Ádám Szalai’s best efforts, and eventually got their goals in the closing minutes. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley 

EURO 2016 was the first European Championship Hungary had qualified for since the 1970s, and they were able to progress out of their group before being knocked out at the Round of 16. Making it out of the group this time would be a more difficult task, having been drawn alongside top contenders such as France, Germany and Portugal. 

For the match with Portugal, Hungary lined up in a 3-5-2 shape, with a back three of Endre Botka, Willi Orbán and Attila Szalai, with Gergő Lovrencsics and Attila Fiola as wing-backs. In midfield they missed the talents of Dominik Szoboszlai through injury. Instead, there was a trio of Ádám Nagy, László Kleinheisler and András Schäfer, while Ádám Szalai and Roland Sallai played up front. 

For EURO 2016 winners Portugal, there was a 4-2-3-1 system to start with. Nélson Semedo, Rúben Dias, Pepe and Raphaël Guerreiro were the back four, while Danilo Pereira and William Carvalho made up the double pivot. Bruno Fernandes was the number ten, flanked by Bernardo Silva and Diogo Jota in support of striker Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Portugal on top without outstanding play

The predominant pattern of the game from the first half saw Portugal having the majority of possession against a relatively deep 5-3-2 defensive shape from Hungary and trying to make breakthroughs with their talented forward line.

The positioning of the front four was relatively free-form, with the likes of Bernardo Silva and Fernandes sometimes dropping off the frontline to roam through midfield zones, while Jota and Ronaldo also moved freely across the defensive line.

Portugal relied on individual movements from their front four, rather than strong initial structures.

However, the movements of these players were often not that well-coordinated, and the freedom of positioning did not necessarily always lead to good combination play. Often, they found themselves positioned too flat, and when dropping off of the last line could be easily pursued by a member of Hungary’s back three stepping out. 

Further back, the double pivot of Danilo and Carvalho primarily stayed close to the center-backs, often with one of them dropping into the backline to form a chain of three, with a defensive midfielder in front. This theoretically made it easier to bring the ball out against the back three of Hungary.

As already alluded to though, the movements from the front four, while often good on an individual level, did not always work well on a group tactical level to allow them to combine through Hungary, meaning ball progression did not always come easily. 

Portugal did still create a couple of decent chances in the first half though, primarily through attacks over the wing where the overlapping When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. fullbacks plus the talented attackers drifting into wide areas to find space were sometimes enough to outplay Hungary in the wide areas. They were also keen to try floated passes in behind where possible on the back of darting movements from the forwards.


Hungary try to play off Szalai

Much of Hungary’s possession strategy in their relatively short spells with the ball revolved around their captain and target-man Ádám Szalai. Rather than pushing the whole team up the pitch for long balls though, they actually initially played short from the back, trying to draw the Portugal side who pressed again in a 4-2-3-1 shape. 

Hungary then looked to play over the Portugal midfield into Szalai with his back to goal, who would then try to hold the ball up for his strike partner or onrushing midfielders in order to attack the Portugal defense with space in behind. 

This looked like a relatively well-prepared strategy, however they found it difficult to get high numbers of players up the pitch to sustain attacks and did not always have the requisite pace or individual ability in the attack to really exploit the open spaces. 

Sanches impact helps Portugal break through

The second half carried on in much the same fashion as the first, with Portugal having most of the ball, still seeking the opening goal against Hungary’s 5-3-2 defensive block. Here they struggled even more going forward though, having produced only two second half shots by the seventieth minute.  

Aside from structural issues, the choice of personnel in midfield was potentially part of the reason they were not creating optimally. One could argue that the inclusion of both Danilo and Carvalho in deep positions was not strictly necessary with such dominance of the ball, especially with a player with the passing range of Rúben Neves on the bench. 

It was not until twenty minutes remaining that Fernando Santos made his first change for Portugal, bringing on Rafa Silva for Bernardo Silva. In the Hungary dugout, Marco Rossi was more active, bringing in Loïc Négo for Schäfer, then a double sub ten minutes later with Szabolcs Schön and Dávid Sigér replacing Sallai and Kleinheisler respectively. 

With ten minutes to go, Hungary thought they finally had the lead when Schön was able to get in behind the Portugal defense and score, however the goal was ruled out for offside. After this, Renato Sanches and André Silva replaced Carvalho and Jota. 

The addition of Sanches in midfield was a welcome one as someone who could add more dynamic from midfield, and he was involved in the move which led to Guerreiro’s deflected shot finally Portugal ahead with just over five minutes of regular time left. A driving run from Sanches also set up André Silva running into the box to earn a penalty a couple of minutes later, which Ronaldo converted to put Portugal 2-0 up, before adding another in stoppage time to end the game 3-0. 


Portugal had problems in possession, and chance creation dried up for a spell in the second half. The strategic direction seems to be based around maintaining defensive stability and giving freedom to the front four to create. Playing against a deep block may not have been ideal for them given this strategy. Despite their weaknesses in possession then, Portugal remain a threat in tournament football. 

Hungary competed well for large stretches of this game, although they were a bit limited in how much they were able to produce in attack. Once the first goal went in, the home side collapsed a bit, giving away a convincing scoreline in the end. 

We decided to make all of our EURO 2020 articles free to read. If you want to support our work, consider taking a subscription.

Josh Manley (21) is a student and aspiring coach. Heavily interested in tactics and strategy in football. Watching teams from all top European leagues, but especially Manchester United and Barcelona. [ View all posts ]


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP