Great International Teams that Never Won: Hungary 1950-1956

Hungary line up for the 1954 World Cup Final
Hungary line up for the 1954 World Cup Final

For four years, they were unbeatable, unmatchable and invincible. From August 1949, Hungary went on an impressive run of unbeaten games. It was certainly one of the most impressive successive runs in international football history. By 1956, they had still suffered only one defeat. Their record of a further 42 wins and seven draws within that period gave them a win percentage of 91% in six years.

That is why they were known as the Magnificent Magyars. The Magical Magyars. TheMarvellous Magyars. Or the Mighty Magyars.

Indeed, their feats almost seemed mythological. For one, they were — as Ferenc Puskas would later proclaim — the prototype of Total Football. They were the first to display versatility of positions. In a similar way to Austria’s Wunderteam with Mathias Sindelar, they had in Nandor Hidegkuti a deep lying forward.

Hidegkuti played the sort of way that would be termed in this era as a false9. His ability to drift in field and link up with the midfield left opposition defences stunned. “‘To me, the tragedy was the utter helplessness … being unable to do anything to alter the grim outlook,’’ wrote Harry Johnston in his autobiography describing Hidegkuti’s movement. Johnston had played as center half for England against Hidegkuti in that famous Match of the Century in November 1953. His helplessness had seen Hidegkuti score a hat-trick as Hungary ran out 6-3 winners on the Wembley turf.

This had been many of the convincing results during that era.  Six months later, England would travel to Budapest and would be further embarrassed 7-1. That defeat at Wembley however would be the one that would resonate. It had been the first defeat for the Three Lions at Wembley to a team from outside the British Isles. It erased a record that had stood for around 90 years.

It also showed how far away the Hungarians were in terms of technique. For the Hungarians third goal, Puskas had received the ball with space on the edge of the six yard box. Billy Wright, the England captain had decided to deny him the shot on goal that he was preparing to take. He dove in to tackle the ball away from Puskas. The Hungarian inside forward however noticed him coming and stepped on the ball with his left boot before dragging the ball back. Wright was left sliding into thin air, almost ploughing the football field in the process. Having created space for himself now, Puskas knocked the ball into the goal.

That incident would be best described by Geoffrey Green of The Times who described Wright’s lunge as ‘a fire engine rushing to the wrong fire’.

Puskas would be on fire for that period and is undoubtedly the greatest Hungarian footballer ever to have lived. Assisting him in scoring was his fellow inside forward, Sandor Kocsis. Known as Golden Head, Kocsis had that ability to arrive late into the box, just in time to meet an onrushing ball and smash it into the back of the net. More often than not, he performed this with his head. Such was his frequency of scoring that he would emerge the top scorer at the 1954 World Cup having scored 11 goals.

On the left wing, Zoltan Czibor also caused panic, ghosting in to get into good goal scoring positions while Josef Boszik possessed the technical nous and passing range to ensure the ball kept moving. To also compliment their innovativeness, Gyula Grosics became a pioneer of the sweeper-keeper role. Rarely was he stationed at his goal line, but played more advanced in his penalty area, providing a passing option if ever one was required.

The W-M formation (3-2-2-3) which was the marquee formation of the early 1950's
The W-M formation (3-2-2-3) which was the marquee formation of the early 1950’s

In Gustav Sebes, Hungary also had a manager who refused to stick to any sort of tactical rigidity. While the W-M formation (3-2-2-3) was the most popular formation of its time, Sebes encouraged a free-flowing 2-3-3-2. Hidegkuti was the free piece, moving between the inside forwards and the wingers at will.

Hungary's dynamic formation
Hungary’s dynamic formation

With this seemingly before their time football, the Aranycsapat walked into the 1954 World Cup In Switzerland as clear favourites. So scared were opponents of them that the West German coach, Sepp Herberger, decided to play a weakened side against Hungary in the group stages, knowing that a loss would mean a playoff against Turkey for the chance to play the quarter finals. Herberger at least ensured that his first team was fresh for the playoff game — but he did not prevent the 8-3 embarrassing loss that followed.

From there, Hungary would proceed to meet Brazil in the quarters, a match so ill-tempered it was referred to as the Battle of Berne. The 4-2 win by Hungary saw them now meet World Champions Uruguay in the semis.

It was a semi-final that very much felt like a Final. The World Champions vs the World’s Greatest Team. Czibor was on hand to give the Magnificent Magyars a 13th minute lead before Hidegkuti doubled the lead at the start of the second half. But Juan Hohberg’s brace would bring the match level taking it into extra time. Kocsis would however finish off the match, his brace ending the scoreline at 4-2.

Puskas had missed the consecutive 4-2 wins due to an injury picked against the Germans in the group stage game. It was the West Germans whom they would meet in the Final and with Puskas back, it almost seemed as if it would take a miracle to defeat the Mighty Magyars. Especially as without Puskas, Hungary had defeated Brazil and uruguay, the two best teams at the previous World Cup.

The XI that had defeated England at Wembley in 1953
The XI that had defeated England at Wembley in 1953

Puskas gave Hungary the lead before Czibor doubled the advantage. West Germany however had done their homework, and by having Horst Eckel man-mark Hidegkuti, they negated the Hungarian’s attack. Having noticed that Hungary had a porous defence (it had conceded goals in all but one of their games), they attacked and by half time were level.

Rain had left the pitch muddy, meaning Hungary’s free-flowing passing was not all that free-flowing. In the chaos, West Germany would score a third with six minutes left and held on to win the game and subsequently the Jules Rimet Trophy.

It is a game known as the Miracle of Berne. West Germany, it would later be alleged, had doped so as to win the game. At the time though, it was — coupled with the USA’s win over England at the 1950 World Cup — the biggest upset of the 1950’s.

For the next two years, Hungary would continue their unbeaten run, inflicting defeats over supposed giants of the game such as Scotland and the Soviet Union. In 1956 however, revolution would break out in Hungary and the team would be dispersed around Europe. Kocsis and Czibor would move to Barcelona while Puskas would join Alfredo Di Stefano at Real Madrid and create a legacy. Many from that team would defect to other European nations.

Never to be re-united again, Hungary has never reached such high standards again. But it was the the Miracle of Berne that means that standard is forever a fleeting one. It prevented the Magical Magyars from performing one infinite magic trick.

Great International Teams that Never Won : Introduction

[image courtesy of imortaisdofutebol]

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