Hungary were cheated out of the 1954 World Cup final. That is the the view of many, and, whether true or not, it certainly is a testament to the ability and strength of the central European nation at the time.
Looking at the Hungary team, it’s no surprise that they defeated strong England sides twice in the 50’s.
In 1953, Walter Winterbottom’s England side, containing Stanley Matthews and future World Cup winning manager Alf Ramsey, were pummelled 6-3, in what is often referred to as “The Match of the Century”. England had hardly lost any international games against sides from outside the British Isles up to this point, so to lose by three clear goals, and to concede six, was testament to the unparalleled skill possessed by the likes of Puskás, Kocsis and Hidegkuti, the latter scoring a hat-trick.
A year later, England went to Hungary, intent on revenge.
In front of 105,000 fans, they lost 7-1.
In both games, the English we given a footballing master class. England were shell-shocked, and they, along with the rest of the footballing world, were forced to completely re-assess their tactics. The attractive, free-flowing game played by the Hungarians was a precursor to the likes of the Dutch “Total Football” tactic.
Of course, a team as strong and skilful going forward as this has to have a solid defensive backbone. In goalkeeper Gyula “The Black Panther” Grosics, they could not ask for a better foundation. He is credited with being one of the pioneers of the sweeper-keeper position, whereby he would often leave the immediate goal area to provide extra defensive cover. His political interests are questionable and open to debate. His goalkeeping skills however, are not.
In front of Grosics, his fellow survivor (the only two from the golden team not to have passed away) Jenő Buzánszky, Gyula Lóránt, Mihály Lantos provided the defensive duties, and their goals against record with a three-man back line is hugely impressive.
The defensive anchorman pairing of József Zakariás and József Bozsik were the perfect compliment to the goal scoring prowess of the forward players. More often than not found heading forward rather than shoring up the defence, they became known as the best attacking “half-back” pairing in the game. Bozsik in particular was incredibly skilful, and his deft touch was often at the forefront of many attacking moves.
Flying down the left wing was Zoltán Czibor, who played his club football alongside legendary forward Sándor Kocsis at both Honved and Barcelona, and László Budai, known for his explosive pace and, even in this team, incredible technique.
Nándor Hidegkuti was played in the attacking midfielder role, although he is often credited with pioneering the support or second striker role, playing deeper and creating chances whilst scoring goals. A modern equivalent would be Lionel Messi, both players scoring hat-fulls of goals from deep.
In attack, arguably the strongest aspect in what is arguably one of the greatest teams ever, was the fearsome pairing of Ferenc Puskás and Sándor Kocsis, who between them scored 159 international goals for Hungary. Puskás scoring record is undeniably fantastic, with a return of 84 international goals in just 84 caps and it is often he who is seen as the icon of Hungarian football. Kocsis however, managed to notch 75 goals in 68 caps, the best goal to game ratio in international football history. Alone, they were the best strikers in the world at the time, but together they formed what was probably the greatest strike pairing in football.
So trying to leave politics and conspiracy theories aside, let’s simply celebrate the fantastic football played by the Hungarians, who were certainly on paper worth a World Cup title or two.
Standing (from left to right): Gyula Lóránt, Jenö Buzánszky, Nándor Hidegkuti, Sándor Kocsis, József Zakariás, Zoltán Czibor, József Bozsik, László Budai.
Front row (from left to right): Mihály Lantos, Ferenc Puskás, Gyula Grosics.