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Preview: Hungary vs. Albania - prediction, team news, lineups
09/10/2021 14:17:36

Two sides still harbouring hopes of a second-placed finish in UEFA World Cup 2022 Qualifying Group I meet at the Puskas Arena on Saturday (7:45PM, 9 Oct), as Hungary face off against Budapest.

Marco Rossi's side currently occupy fourth spot in the group, while their over-achieving visitors sit second behind England with four games left to go.

We say: Hungary 1-1 Albania

Having been humbled by England on their own turf, Hungary can take nothing for granted against this exciting Albania side with some renowned names in the heart of the rearguard.

Reja has overseen quite the qualification campaign with the visitors, but this game should be as tight as the battle for second place and we are struggling to see a clear winner in Budapest.

Match preview

After holding their own against the continent's big boys during Euro 2020, Hungary struggled to translate that solidity into results in World Cup Qualifying, suffering defeats to England and Albania without scoring, while their loss to the Three Lions was overshadowed by incidents of racist abuse from the home crowd.

However, those on the pitch boosted their nation's qualification bid with a 2-1 success over Andorra during their most recent game, as Adam Szalai and Endre Botka netted before Max Llovera's late consolation for the visitors.

Despite starting their Qatar 2022 bid with seven points from their opening nine games, Hungary's defeats last month have seen them slip to fourth in the group, two points behind their upcoming second-placed opponents and one behind Poland, who face whipping boys San Marino this weekend.

Not since 1986 have Hungary qualified for a World Cup Finals, and with another daunting clash against England at Wembley to come, Rossi's side are fighting an uphill battle to end that barren streak this time around.

Victory over Andorra at least saw Hungary end a six-game winless run across all tournaments, and they have only lost three of their last 12 World Cup Qualifying matches on home soil, but their upcoming opponents are daring to dream.

Still seeking their first-ever appearance at the World Cup Finals, Albania could very well be on their way to the second round after an impressive opening tally of 12 points from their opening six fixtures in Group I.

Overseen by 75-year-old veteran Edoardo Reja, the world's 66th-ranked nation suffered a crushing 4-1 defeat to Poland at the start of September before their previous win over Hungary and 5-0 thrashing of San Marino in their most recent game, with Chelsea forward Armando Broja finding the back of the net in that one.

Victories over San Marino and Andorra back in March have helped Albania rise to an unlikely second in the rankings ahead of Hungary and Poland, and while England are expected to ride off into the sunset at the top, the three-way fight for the runners-up spot could go right down to the wire.

All four of Albania's victories in Group I have seen them keep clean sheets, and recent history suggests that there will be a winner and loser in this tie, as the visitors have drawn just one of their last 16 games in World Cup Qualifying since 2016.

Broja's 87th-minute strike saw Albania beat Hungary 1-0 at home last month, and that game represented the Red and Blacks' first-ever win and goal against their hosts - who previously won five of their last six against Albania - including a 12-0 thumping back in 1950.

Team News

Hungary defender Willi Orban was forced to miss the Andorra win through suspension but is back in the fold for this one along with RB Leipzig teammate and returning goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.

Adam Lang started in defence against Andorra but could now make way for the returning Orban, but the absence of 25-goal captain Adam Szalai is a huge blow to the visitors, with the Mainz forward set to undergo knee surgery.

Roland Sallai could therefore be joined by Nemanja Nikolic at the tip of the attack, while Dominik Szoboszlai will also hope to return after appearing as a substitute in the win over Andorra.

Albania midfielder Klaus Gjasula returns to the squad after serving a suspension against San Marino and could slot straight back into midfield, with Qazim Laci - who scored in that game - not involved this time around.

Defender Erion Hoxhallari has been forced to withdraw after returning a positive COVID-19 test, but Ermir Lenjani was expected to get the nod on the left either way.

Should Broja be recalled to the first XI, Empoli starlet Nedim Bajrami could make way to accommodate the Southampton loanee and Myrto Uzuni, who also netted last time out.

Hungary possible starting lineup:

Gulacsi; Fiola, Orban, Szalai; Botka, Schafer, Kleinheisler, Schon; Sallai, Szoboszlai; Nikolic

Albania possible starting lineup:

Strakosha; Ismajli, Djimsiti, Kumbulla; Hysaj, Gjasula, Bare, Lenjani; Uzuni; Manaj, Broja

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