RB Leipzig duo Peter Gulacsi and Willi Orban will be key for Hungary at the Euros this summer. - © DFL
RB Leipzig duo Peter Gulacsi and Willi Orban will be key for Hungary at the Euros this summer. - © DFL

RB Leipzig's Peter Gulacsi and Willi Orban Hungary for success at Euro 2020


Hungary may be in the 'group of death' at UEFA Euro 2020 alongside Germany, France and Portugal, but the Magyars boast two key RB Leipzig players in goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi and defender Willi Orban - while midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai has pulled out through injury - who hold all the ingredients to satisfy their hunger for success this summer.

When the draw for the Euros was originally made in November 2019, there were collective gasps as four-time world champions Germany, reigning FIFA World Cup holders France and then finally incumbent European champions Portugal were all put into Group F.

Three powerhouses of European football competing for two - potentially three - places in the knockout rounds. But the group wasn't complete. One of eight possible teams would join them after completion of the play-offs, eventually played a year later.

It was a 92nd-minute winner from Szoboszlai against Iceland (2-1) that ultimately booked Hungary's place at the continental showpiece, after Orban had been among the scorers in a 3-1 semi-final victory in Bulgaria. The Magyars would be going to only their second international tournament since 1986.

Dominik Szoboszlai’s goal in added time of the play-off final against Iceland booked Hungary’s place at this summer’s rearranged Euro 2020. - ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images

That in itself is remarkable given Hungary's footballing history. Led by the great Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis, the Mighty Magyars were once considered the best team on the planet, famously beating England 6-3 and 7-1, finishing runners-up at the 1954 World Cup - the final being their sole defeat between 1950 and 1956 - and winning Olympic gold in Helsinki in 1952.

Third and fourth-place finishes at Euro 1964 and 1972 respectively were then the best it got following the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the national team's decline. Now with back-to-back Euro qualifications, the team looks to be restoring domestic pride once again with a core of Leipzig players, as well as captain Adam Szalai of Mainz and Freiburg winger Roland Sallai.

It all starts at the back for Hungary - and Die Roten Bullen - with Gulacsi. Life basically began at 23 for the now 31-year-old goalkeeper when he signed for Austrian outfit Red Bull Salzburg in 2013 after six years on the books at Liverpool, never making a first-team appearance and being farmed out to lower-league clubs Hereford United, Tranmere Rovers and Hull City on loan.

It was during his first season on Merseyside that he earned his maiden senior call-up for Hungary for a friendly in May 2008, but he actually had to wait until 2014 for his debut after impressing as first choice for Austrian double winners Salzburg.

Watch: Gulacsi’s top 5 saves for Leipzig

The club had signed him at the start of the season after a three-day trial following his release by Liverpool. As he so often is when it comes to finding talent, sporting director Ralf Rangnick was spot on in his 2013 prediction: "We're convinced he has great potential."

Two seasons, two doubles, an award for best goalkeeper in Austria and 100 competitive appearances later, the Budapest native joined sister club Leipzig, but had to wait until midway through 2015/16 before he ousted injured No.1 Fabio Coltori. Gulacsi has since made the goalkeeping position his own at the club as they achieved immediate promotion to the Bundesliga, qualification for the UEFA Champions League in their maiden top-flight campaign, reached the semi-finals in 2019/20, and also played in two DFB Cup finals.

He has played all but six of Leipzig's games across five campaigns in the Bundesliga and kept 56 clean sheets in his 164 appearances. Fifteen and 16 shutouts in 2020/21 and 2018/19 respectively were also the most by any goalkeeper in those seasons.

This campaign just gone also saw him marshal the meanest defence in the Bundesliga, with only 32 goals conceded. He saved around two-thirds of shots that came his way as he played every minute prior to being given a rest for the final matchday.

Gulacsi and Orban have spent the last six years playing together for RB Leipzig and now the Hungary national team at Euro 2020. - Christian Schroedter via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Christian Schroedter

A forever reliable pair of hands, his coach over the last two years, Julian Nagelsmann, was praising his goalkeeper well into their first season together for his continued development: "His game has completely changed. He's probably the player with the biggest change."

By this point, Gulacsi was already first choice for Hungary following the retirement of the country's most capped player, tracksuit bottom-wearing former Hertha Berlin, Crystal Palace and 1860 Munich goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, following Euro 2016.

He's also taken his club form into international football alongside long-time teammate Orban. The pair have played a total of 177 times together for Leipzig and Hungary following the Kaiserslautern-born defender’s decision to represent the Magyars. He was eligible to play for the country of his birth (Germany), his father (Hungary) or his mother (Poland).

After earning two caps at U21 level for Germany and not being called up to Joachim Löw's senior side, the centre-back - whose full name is Vilmos Tamas Orban - eventually opted for Hungary and made his debut in October 2018.

Orban joined Leipzig the same year as Gulacsi from Kaiserslautern, where he had already captained the team at only 22 years of age. Sporting director Rangnick described him as "one of the most exciting players from Bundesliga 2 [in 2014/15]."

The player himself would later say that he decided to make the move because of Rangnick, who can "make any player better."

Forming a solid partnership alongside Marvin Compper and full-backs Lukas Klostermann and Marcel Halstenberg, eventually also in front of Gulacsi, Leipzig were promoted with the division's tightest defence. And Orban's leadership qualities came to the fore again at the Red Bull Arena as he often deputised for captain Dominik Kaiser before coach Ralph Hasenhüttl eventually named him full-time skipper.

Although an injury-hit 2019/20 saw him lose his place in the team and ultimately the armband to Marcel Sabitzer, the 28-year-old fought his way back into Nagelsmann's reckoning this past season and featured in 40 of a possible 48 fixtures - only one fewer than Dayot Upamecano.

Orban (No.5) will face a number of former Germany teammates from his youth, including Joshua Kimmich (No.24), Kevin Volland (No.9) and central defensive partner Matthias Ginter (No.4). - imago sportfotodienst/imago/Team 2

Although Leipzig finished second in the league and cup, it was a good campaign for Orban personally. He finished top of the class among Die Roten Bullen for pass completion (91.3 per cent), tackle success (62.8 per cent) and aerial duels won (136).

He was also Hungary's most used centre-back across Euro 2020 qualifying, as well as scoring in that play-off semi-final. The latest of his five international goals in only 20 caps came in a 3-3 draw against Poland in 2022 World Cup qualifying that also saw Robert Lewandowski feature as one of five Bundesliga players on the scoresheet.

This summer's tournament will also prove extra special for Orban. The pan-European competition has presented him the unique scenario of playing every group game at home, despite Hungary only hosting Portugal and then France at the Puskas Arena in Budapest - although expected to be in front of a full 67,000 crowd.

The Magyars' final game in Group F takes them to Munich and the Allianz Arena to face Germany in a fixture Orban will relish, with the opportunity to make his mark against his homeland and - potentially - deal Die Mannschaft a telling blow in a highly competitive group.

Szoboszlai misses out on a chance to face Germany at the Allianz Arena, having already played there this past season for Red Bull Salzburg against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League, including against France’s Benjamin Pavard. - GEPA pictures/ Jasmin Walter via www.imago-images.de/imago images/GEPA pictures

The Leipzig defender of course knows many of his opponents very well, having come up against the likes of Thomas Müller, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry and Kai Havertz numerous times down the years; played alongside Timo Werner for several seasons at Leipzig; and even making his two Germany U21 appearances together with Niklas Süle, Christian Günter, Kevin Volland, Matthias Ginter, Joshua Kimmich, Emre Can, and others.

It will be his and Gulacsi's job to keep things solid at the back against players they know well, as well as when the Magyars when they kick off their campaign on 15 June against Portugal in Budapest. Hungary have never before beaten the Portuguese, but do have a proud competitive record against France of three wins, one draw and only two losses.

Their only two tournament meetings against Germany came at the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. Hungary won the group game 8-3 (yes, eight-three) before a 3-2 loss in the final that was fittingly called the "Miracle of Bern" by Germans after Sepp Herberger's side came from 2-0 down inside eight minutes to be crowned world champions for the first time.

Coming into the Euros on the back of only one defeat in 11 since the start of 2020, Hungary aren't just there to make up the numbers in Group F. The modern Magyars boast one of Europe's best goalkeepers and a defender in form on the back of a standout season in Germany - both flying the RB Leipzig flag against Europe's elite.