Hungary were ranked second in Group 6 but faced stiff competition for one of the two qualifying berths, battling with favourites Spain, plucky N. Ireland and a vastly improved Rep. of Ireland.
After László Balint short stint, György Mezey returned to the national team as manager in the time for the campaign for Italy’90. Mezey had of course been head coach also under Mexico’86, before leaving for Kuwait. Hungary’s 1988 campaign hadn’t been a particularly good one, and Mezey was re-appointed in order to bring back hope for another World Cup. The Hungarians were well used to the world stage tournament at the time, having been qualified for every World Cup since 1978. Would it be a fourth in a row?
Before their first qualifier, which was scheduled for October, Hungary played two away friendlies.
31.08.88 Austria 0-0 Hungary
Line-up: P Disztl – Sallai, Nagy, Garaba (c), Sass (Szalma 65) – Kozma, Róth, G Bognár, Vincze (Hajszán 54) – Dajka (E Kovács h-t), Kiprich
21.09.88 Iceland 0-3 Hungary
Goals: Kiprich 2, Vincze
Line-up: P Disztl (Gáspár 78) – Sallai (c), Nagy (Pintér h-t), Róth (Mészöly 78), Keller – Kozma, Gyimesi (Gregor h-t), E Kovács, Vincze – Kiprich (Fodor 78), Hajszán
Mezey restored some belief in the Hungarian side with these two friendlies. 0-0 in Linz against Austria was a much improved result for Hungary after losing 4-0 under Balint in the reverse fixture in Budapest before summer. The 3-0 win in Iceland also gave promise, with star striker József Kiprich ravaging the Icelandic defence.
It had only been two years since Mezey left his post as the national team coach and he could still rely on most of the important players from Mexico: Péter Disztl, Antal Roth, Détári, Kiprich, Garaba, Nagy were all still around. Disztl had not been in favour with the previous coaches, but Mezey made him his first choich in goal, ahead of Gaspar. At right back, Balint had often used István Kozma: Mezey reinstated Sallai, and moved Kozma to midfield. At the other full back, Hungary now had two options in János Sass (Honvéd) and József Keller (Ferencváros). To tell from the friendlies, Mezey wanted to play Nagy as a libero and Roth as central defender. In backhand he had the more inexperienced Attila Pintér (Ferencvaros) and Geza Mészöly (Vasas). In midfield Mezey had many options. Détári was guaranteed to play, and so did the defensive midfielder Garaba. Kozma looked also to be in favour, ahead of his Újpest colleague Ervin Kovács: both primarilly seen as defensive minded. There were also a creative player like Bognár and Mezeys old favourite László Dajka. On top, József Kiprich was an obvious choice, either partnered by István Vincze or Gyula Hajszán. Vincze was the most exciting of Hungary’s new players, probably followed by Kozma and Pintér.