Exclusive: Hungary Coach Erwin Koeman Targets Euro 2012 Qualification

In a frank interview with Goal.com's Ashish Sharma, Hungary coach Erwin Koeman looks ahead to the future.
Ronald Koeman is better known worldwide, not only for his exploits with Barcelona, but also with the Dutch national team. However, brother Erwin Koeman also enjoyed a distinguished career. He played for his country and won the European Championship in 1988, at club level he helped KV Mechelen win the Belgian league title in 1989 and then won the Dutch championship with PSV Eindhoven in 1991 and 1992

It was a glittering enough career to tempt the Hungarian FA to appoint him as national coach in May 2008. Since then, Erwin has played a big part in the improvement of the national side. Yet ironically, Hungary's World Cup hopes were dashed in Portugal, in the very stadium where his younger brother was coach of Benfica.

So what did Erwin think after a super Portuguese performance on Saturday, which left his team chasing shadows for much of the second half.?

Erwin Koeman: "OK, I have to say honestly that the Portuguese team is better than ours. But we knew that up-front. We had some possibilities in the first half - we had one or two chances to score a goal - but otherwise we knew it was going to be hard. But in our favour I have to say we did our maximum. Yeah, after 2-0 it was over, but that wasn't until the 75th minute."

Certainly the qualifying group draw didn't do the Hungarians any favours, pitting them against three of Europe's top sides and two of the best players in the world: Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. But the fact that Hungary have still managed to accumulate 13 points is something positive for Koeman

E.K.: “I think we did better than most people thought. We had one of the most difficult groups with Denmark, Portugal and Sweden. Our biggest disappointment was against the Swedish team. They scored a goal in the 94th minute through Ibrahimovic, and that totally killed us.”

Koeman feels having played these three teams he has a better idea of where Hungary sit at this moment.

E.K.: “I would say we are in the middle of the European football countries. We have made some progress, but now is the moment for us to get ahead. But its very difficult, you know we have players who are not playing in their club teams, and we have players who are playing in the second division. For example, the Portuguese players every week play at the highest level and that's the difference.”

The one bright cloud over the horizon is that the Hungarians have always produced young talent. The youth team is, give or take extra time, just 90 minutes away from playing in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup final, though they must overcome Ghana in Tuesday's semi-final. The rising star for the Hungarians is Krisztian Nemeth, a Liverpool striker who is on loan at AEK Athens this season, and Koeman is aware that young players need to be given their chance

E.K.: “It is very important. For example, with ten minutes left in the Portugal game, we brought on Jozsef Varga. He is also a very young player, only 21 from Debrecen. But you have to do that to give them a chance, and maybe that will mean that other players also get a chance. That's what you have to do.”

Throwing in youngsters for the experience may well be something that will cross Koeman's mind ahead of their final game against Denmark. Without doubt Erwin is a winner, but he also realises the limitations that he has to work with, and admits that there are frustrations.
E.K.: “I always want more and its a little bit frustrating because it's very difficult to work in Hungary. People there always expect too much from the team. I am a realistic guy. We did well, but if we want to win something then we have to improve.”

Asked if he is committed to carrying on, Koeman has no doubts.

E.K.: “Of course. I have a contract for two more years. Going for qualification for the 2012 European Championship is now our next goal. We don't know what the draw is yet, but we will find that out in February and so after that we will see.”

Ashish Sharma, Goal.com