Hungary's visit to Malta for a World Cup Group Eight qualifier tomorrow has revived many happy memories for Carmel Busuttil.

Sixteen years ago, Busuttil was widely regarded as the darling of Maltese football and his goalscoring exploits in the two competitive matches Malta played against Hungary in the qualifying round for the 1990 World Cup further consolidated his reputation as one of the country's all-time greats.

On December 11, 1988, Malta hosted Hungary in a World Cup qualifier. Under Horst Heese, who is also in charge of the national team now, Malta was staring defeat in the face after Kiprisch had converted a second-half penalty to restore Hungary's one-goal lead after Busuttil had gained a 46th-minute equaliser for the home team.

Busuttil had the final say, though, as he struck the ball home from close range on the stroke of time to earn Malta a point much to delight of the 8,000 home fans.

Five months later, Malta faced Hungary in Budapest and Busuttil, at the time playing for KRC Genk in Belgium, again took centre stage with another late goal that denied the Magyars victory.

"The visit of Hungary has brought back old, but pleasant, memories," Busuttil told The Times yesterday.

"I scored Malta's goals in the 2-2 draw at Ta' Qali but it's our away match in Budapest that stands out most in my mind.

"The stadium there had a special aura about it... it bore resemblance to the famous Wembley. We were impressed by the facilities and the atmosphere before and during the game.

"Although the mood on the stands was electrifying, we believed in our chances of getting a good result. Our morale was high after the 2-2 draw in Malta but we had to toil hard to cope with their pressure in Budapest. You can imagine the team's joy when I hit another goal, from a corner action, to help Malta gain another point."

Way back in the 50s, great players like Puskas, Hideguti and Kocsis made Hungary the envy of Europe but their feats sit uneasily with the mixed results obtained by the Hungarians over the past 50 years.

The 40-year-old Busuttil, now an assistant national coach, believes that Hungary are gradually emerging from the shadow of their illustrious predecessors.

"The level of the Hungarian national team has never quite equalled that of the 50s, but I believe that they are improving. Ten members of the squad called for the match against Malta turn out for foreign clubs and that means something," Busuttil said.

On Malta's chances of upsetting Hungary's bid to get their erstwhile stuttering World Cup campaign on track, Busuttil said: "The morale in our clan is high after two positive performances in our last qualifiers. Our build-up has not been as smooth as we would have liked due to the usual training problems but we are looking forward to the game."

In September, Busuttil had the opportunity to assess Hungary's strengths and weaknesses when he watched them beat Iceland 3-2, their only victory in Group Eight so far. Hungary's collective work has been earmarked by Busuttil as their main strength but he has also spotted two players who will need special attention from the Maltese.

"Hungary are a well-knit team and work hard for each other. They have striker Zoltan Gera, who plays for West Brom, and another midfielder on the books of Ferencvaros, who caught my attention during the game against Iceland. They will come here with high optimism but I also believe that on a good day, when all our players perform to the best of their abilities, a positive result is within our possibilities."


World Cup 1990 qualifier - December 11, 1988 (Ta' Qali)

Malta 2
Hungary 2

Malta: D. Cluett, E. Camilleri (N. Saliba 53), A. Azzopardi, J. Galea, S. Camilleri (S. Vella 70), J. Buttigieg, C. Busuttil, R. Vella, D. Carabott, C. Scerri, M. Gregory.

Hungary: P. Dizstel, I. Kozma, I. Dizstel, Keller, Kekesi, Cusuhay, Kiprisch (Pinter 85), Kovacs, Czucsansky, Vincze (Fischer 70), Balogh.

Referee: G. Koukoulakis (Greece).

Scorers: Vincze 5; Busuttil 46, 90; Kiprisch 56 penalty.


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