BUDAPEST, HUNGARY – Hungarian champions Ferencváros take on European heavy-weight FC Barcelona in their Champions League group stage opener tonight, as the Budapest outfit makes its return to the competition after a 25-year hiatus.
The 1975 European Cup Winners’ Cup finalists won’t have their work cut out for them in a particularly tough Group G, which will see them take on Messi’s Barcelona, Ronaldo’s Juventus and head coach Sergei Rebrov’s former club, Dynamo Kyiv.
“I am proud of our team, we have no stars and we work hard and together. We deserve to be here, we represent Hungary and my players will enjoy it a lot”, said the Hungarian club’s Ukrainian coach and former Tottenham Hotspur striker ahead of the game.
“The recipe is always to work hard. We are here because the players deserve it. They are a little nervous, and it is important to start well. We can adapt. This is different from playing at home and many of our players have no experience. We have to show our strengths,” he added.
The only side to reach the group stage having started in the first qualifying round in mid-August, Hungary’s most successful club are already five games into their European campaign, having already defeated Djurgårdens, Celtic, Dinamo Zagreb and Molde on their way to their first group stage since the 1995-96 season.
But tonight’s much-anticipated test will be Ferencváros’s first visit to the dreaded Nou Camp and the odds are certainly against them, according to the Champions League odds in this unique tracker that maps all the teams odds as they fluctuate throughout the season.
“It’s really a celebration for all of Hungarian football. To play against Barcelona and Juventus is just incredible,” said chief executive Pál Orosz, whose father was a member of the team that beat Juventus in the 1965 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final.
“I say this achievement we have is extraordinary – getting into the group stage, starting from the first qualifying round. With our financial background, sporting background, we are a classic ‘Europa League group-stage club’, so for us this is something fantastic,” added Orosz, who took over the club in 2011, after a spell during which they were relegated to the second division because of financial irregularities.
The club will host Barcelona and Juventus at Budapest’s new 68,000-seat Puskás Aréna, which could see up to 22,000 fans under Uefa’s current 30% attendance guidelines due to coronavirus. Research by the club suggests that 20% of the Hungarian population, which have not had a representative in the group stages of the Champions League since Debrecen in 2009-10, are Ferencváros supporters.
The Hungarian club will be the only Central European representative in this year’s edition of the Champions League after Slavia Prague failed to make it past the play-off round.
The Czech champions, who also faced Barcelona for the first time last season, joins eternal rivals Sparta Prague, Czech Cup runners-up Slovan Liberec, and Poland’s Lech Poznań in the Europa League, which kicks off on Thursday.