September 10, 2012

BERN, Switzerland (Reuters) -- Hungarians may find out whether their team's recent improvements are signs of a genuine revival or a false dawn when they face Netherlands in a football World Cup qualifier on Tuesday.

Austria and Belgium, who like Hungary are aiming to end long spells in the wilderness, also have home games which could by pivotal for their hopes of qualifying for Brazil in 2014.

The Austrians will be attempting to end a run of seven consecutive defeats against neighbors Germany while underachieving Belgium host Croatia, a country which has often punched above its weight in football terms.

Spain begin their title defense with a long trip to Georgia while France, Portugal and England all have a good chance of finishing Tuesday with six points from two games as they follow winning starts with reasonably straightforward home games.

France host Belarus in Group I, England play Ukraine, a team they beat during Euro 2012 in Group H, and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal entertain Azerbaijan in Group F.

Italy, held 2-2 in Bulgaria on Friday, should have little trouble at home to Malta in Group B.

Hungary's current team are a long way from the Mighty Magyars, who revolutionised football in the early 1950s, but they are regarded as a vast improvement on some of the country's recent offerings.

Their third place at the world under-20 championship in Egypt three years ago suggested that a bumper crop of young talent is on the way.

Recent performances at senior level, led by players such as winger Balazs Dzsudzsak and forward Adam Szalai, have also shown signs of promise.

They managed a respectable six wins in 10 games as they finished third in their Euro 2012 qualifying group which also featured Sweden and Netherlands.

Coach Sandor Erevgari, who pleaded for stability when he took over two years ago after leading the under-20 side in Egypt, has survived his first qualifying campaign and continued into the next two-year cycle.

That in itself is an important step forward for a team who previously went through seven coaches in a decade and have not qualified for a finals since the 1986 World Cup.

A win over the Dutch, who won 4-0 on their visit to Budapest in a Euro 2012 qualifier, would be a genuine sign that things are getting better and would give Hungary a realistic chance of challenging for at least second place in the group.

Both teams won their opening games in Group D which also sees two other games on Tuesday with Turkey and Estonia, who both lost their first matches, facing each other in Istanbul and Romania hosting Andorra in Bucharest.

Belgium and Croatia, who meet in Group A, both started with wins, the Belgians beating Wales 2-0 away and their opponents overcoming Macedonia.

Belgium, who qualified for six successive World Cups between 1982 and 2002, have not returned to the finals since that run ended but are seen as having a golden generation led by Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany.

Scotland host Macedonia and Serbia are at home to Wales in arguably the most even of the nine first-round groups.

Scotland and Serbia drew 0-0 in their opener on Saturday.

Austria, who last qualified in 1998, are full of optimism as they open their campaign at home to their biggest rivals, who started with a predictably straightforward 3-0 win over Faroe Islands in Group C.

The match is Marcel Koller's competitive debut as Austria's coach, nearly one year after he replaced Didi Constantini.

Sweden should have a gentle introduction as they make their debut in the group at home to Kazakhstan.

Spain defend a two-year unbeaten record in competitive internationals when they make the long trip to Georgia, who started with a 1-0 win over Belarus on Friday.

Since losing 1-0 to Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup, Vicente del Bosque's team have gone unbeaten in 20 competitive games - six at the World Cup, eight in Euro 2012 qualifying and another six at Euro 2012 itself.

The winners of the nine groups qualify directly for Brazil in 2014 and the eight best runners-up have another chance in two-leg playoffs.

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