Hungary's Gulacsi a guardian in more ways than one

31-year-old has been one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament where his saves have frustrated many forwards

AFP June 22, 2021


Peter Gulacsi is ready to wreck Germany's dreams of reaching the last 16 of Euro 2020 and cement his reputation as one of Europe's best goalkeepers, but off the pitch the Hungary shot-stopper is a strong believer in human rights.

The 31-year-old has been one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament where his saves have frustrated the likes of France forward Kylian Mbappe.

He was on the bench when the Magyars bowed out of Euro 2016 with a humbling 4-0 defeat to Belgium in the last 16.

Five years on, Gulacsi and Hungary are out to prove they can get a result in Munich to deny the hosts a knockout spot with Germany buoyed by a spectacular 4-2 win over holders Portugal.

Gulacsi refuses to be intimidated by Germany's attack, which often overran Portugal on Saturday.

As he does before every game, Gulacsi will take a moment to kiss a picture of his family on his shin pads for good luck before running out at the Allianz Arena.

"I'm a calm guy -- calm, stability and consistency -- that's the most important thing for a goalkeeper," Gulacsi told AFP subsidiary SID.

He has locked down his place in Hungary's goal with top displays for German club RB Leipzig in the Champions League and Bundesliga, earning nicknames 'Clean sheet Pete' and 'Pete the Wall'.

Gulacsi could play a key part in the Group F showdown with his domestic knowledge of the German forwards, but is aware of the challenge.

"For me, Germany are one of the absolute top favourites in terms of its squad and potential," Gulacsi warned.

"We also have a strong team and we believe in ourselves," he added.

The Germans need just a point to be sure of reaching the last 16, while a win would guarantee a top-two finish in the group.

Gulacsi's Hungary, who are bottom of the group with a point after Saturday's 1-1 draw with France, must win to avoid elimination.

The German camp know they have their work cut out to beat Gulacsi, who they rate as highly as their own captain Manuel Neuer.

"I think his abilities are very close to 'Manu'," said Gulacsi's RB Leipzig team-mate Marcel Halstenberg at Germany's Euro 2020 base on Monday.

"I see Manu in every training session, he's the best, but Gulacsi is also very good and has developed well, especially in recent years.

"He's very good on the line, he anticipates a lot. Even if he wants to keep a clean sheet, we want to stick a few goals past him."

After failing to make the grade at Liverpool, Gulacsi joined RB Leipzig from sister club Red Bull Salzburg in 2015 and helped turn the Saxony club into a Bundesliga powerhouse.

"He is the modern goalkeeper that everyone would like to have at the moment," said Hungary's former coach Bernd Storck.

Julian Nagelsmann, who coached Gulacsi for the last two seasons in Leipzig, says the Hungarian "really helps the team with his personality and charisma".

However, Gulacsi has also made headlines off the pitch.

In February, he criticised a law in his home country that bans homosexual couples from adopting children.

"Everyone has the right to equality," Gulacsi wrote on Facebook, which caused a stir in the Hungarian media and divided his countrymen.

"It was a bold stand. It goes without saying that we stand by ethics like openness," said Gulacsi's Hungary and Leipzig team-mate Willi Orban.

Gulacsi's point of view drew plenty of criticism, which had far reaching consequences.

When Hertha Berlin's Hungarian goalkeeping coach Zsolt Petry criticised the comments, the Bundesliga club dismissed him.

However Gulacsi's opinions on diversity and gay rights won him respect in Germany.

Neuer has worn a rainbow-coloured captain's armband throughout the Euro 2020 finals in solidarity with gay pride.

Munich city officials hope to light the Allianz Arena stadium's translucent cover in rainbow colours to make a statement to Viktor Orban's right-wing Hungarian government.

"Personally, I would like it if it was colourfully lit up," said Gulacsi's team-mate Orban.