As a Hungarian club races along unbeaten towards the business end of the VELUX EHF Champions League, the men's national team has more questions than answers before they embark on their EHF EURO journey to Denmark in January 2014.
Will a genius coach, an outstanding wall of six in defence and the heroics of Laszlo Nagy be enough for the Olympic semi-finalists to qualify for the Main Round? Attila Kotormán has some answers after Hungary took on reigning world champions Spain.
While Lajos Mocsai, head coach of the Hungarian national team lamented about both the depth of his squad and lack of players who regularly play 50-55 minutes in their clubs, it was Gábor Császár, the team's playmaker who made a much more relevant point as far as the future of Hungarian handball is concerned.
"I wouldn't mind having more talented youngsters knocking on the door of the national team," claimed the PSG centre back, after Hungary faced world champions Spain first behind closed doors then the two teams took the court in front of 7,500 spectators in Debrecen.
The later was an even game for about 45 minutes, but despite the outstanding performance of Péter Tatai in goal Spain won 29:24.
It is telling if 7,500 people attend a match in a city with no considerable handball presence. However, the affection of fans comes with high, sometimes unreasonable expectations towards the national team, which is even boosted by the fact that Hungary reached the semi-final of the Olympics in London and narrowly lost to Denmark (28:26) in the quarter-final of the world championship at the beginning of this year.
In a country with such an outstanding handball history, expectations are squarely high, even in a period when they are not fully justified.
As of today Hungary has a good, but not excellent team. Veszprém's old guard Carlos Pérez and Nándor Fazekas retired from the national side and as a result of a series of quarrels with Mocsai, who was MKB Veszprém's head coach for three years before Carlos Ortega took over, Balázs Laluska and Veszprém wingers, Péter Gulyás and the Iváncsik brothers, also quit.
Without these players, Mocsai's team (with many of the squad members celebrating their first international caps) lost the last match of qualification against Slovakia, but still comfortably reached Denmark thanks to a win over Croatia in Round 3.
Attila Kotorman, former national team member with 96 caps agrees with the worries about depth in the Hungarian squad.
"The starting line-up is excellent, but Mocsai doesn't have clutch players on the bench to rely on. For the Hungarian team it's all about defending.
"They have a massive wall of six with excellent goalies and if it works, they're good. It's the offense that would really need reinforcement as the burden of goal scoring lies mainly on one player, László Nagy," said Kotorman.
He claims that Hungary's defence is second only to Spain's, but the team is shrewdly one-sided in attack and desperately needs more all-around players like Nagy, who is a lethal force at both ends of the court.
"Two transitional changes may take their toll, especially when the left back plays on the far side, away from the bench.
"If the Hungarian wall has time to pick up formation, it will cause problems to any team, but if attacks don't work out and they face a fast running opponent they will be overrun and concede plenty of fast break goals," explained the 41-year-old former international.
Nagy on the other hand, is quite optimistic about his side’ strengths.
"Our strength is teamwork, though naturally the individual achievements will also be an important factor.
"The more players of our team will be in good form during the matches, the better results will be reached by Hungary. I hope I will be able to add my pluses to our playing strategy – our fans expect me to play well, but I am also a perfectionist," said the Veszprem star.
Professor at the helm
Another factor to consider is Lajos Mocsai, one of the brightest masterminds of contemporary handball.
Nicknamed in Hungary as ‘The Professor’, Mocsai is probably the best in the world at building up towards a tournament as far as preparation, players' forms and tactical know-how are concerned.
Some would add he is a second-rater when it comes to controlling matches but his brilliant analytical skills will manifest in Hungary's awareness of their opponents tactics.
It would be hard not to find connection between state owned energy company MVM stepping up as sponsor of MKB and the return of Veszprém's wingers to the national side.
Nevertheless, Mocsai can once again count on Gergő Iváncsik on the left and Péter Gulyás on the right, who both took the court against Spain in Debrecen. This should be a major boost, but Kotormán reckons the problem is elsewhere.
"We sourly miss the shooting power of Carlos Pérez at left back. Hungary need to conserve Ferenc Ilyés's energy for defensive duties.
"Even though we have a Bundesliga regular with Barna Putics and a Champions League player with Kornél Nagy, too much depends on the right backs and the playmaker Gábor Császár. He is finally getting a piece of the action at PSG but needs to reach top form very soon," concludes the manager of Gyöngyös KK, who believes the team will be ready by the time his club hosts the last test before they head to Denmark.
Matches against Czech Republic, Poland and Belarus will both answer the last questions concerning team selection and set the supporters' mood before the team takes on Spain, Iceland and Norway respectively in one of the toughest groups at the EHF EURO and coach Mocsai is modest in his expectations.
"I am the head coach of the men’s national team for the second time since spring 2010, and we have always been in the toughest group in all tournaments, including two World Championships, the Olympic Games and the EHF EURO 2012.
"Calling Group B as the ‘group of death’ is too modest, taking into consideration that the world champion Spain, two very strong Nordic teams, Iceland and Norway are with us.
"Iceland and Norway have very strong squads, full of experienced players. I think that our match against Norway on 16 January is crucial, our only goal is to reach the Main Round and to play in Herning," concluded the sports and physical education professor.