Hungary: best losers?


THE 1954 World Cup seemed all but gift wrapped for Hungary. Had they not just annihilated England 7-1 in Budapest having, the previous November, thrashed them 6-3 at Wembley, thus becoming the first foreign team ever to beat England on their own soil? Did they not have, one of the most devastating attacks the game had ever seen, the explosive left foot of Ferenc Puskas, inside-left and captain, the aerial power of inside-right Sandor Kocsis, alias 'Golden Head', the wiles, the right footed shooting, of the deep lying centre forward, Nandor Hidegkuti? Not to mention the forceful incursions of the right half Josef Bozsik, a member of the rubber stamp Hungarian Parliament, the wiles on the wings of Budai and Zoltan Czibor?

Hungary's team had been kept under wraps, playing matches only behind the Iron Curtain, till the Olympic Games of 1952 in Finland. These they entered as the typical pseudo amateur team from a Communist country where professionalism was officially forbidden, but in fact exercised in the shape of Army or police roles for which the players were paid, but seldom if ever obliged to perform. Thus Puskas was nicknamed 'The Galloping Major' though it is doubtful if he ever heard a shot fired in anger. Indeed, the Hungarians grouped almost all their international stars together at the Honved, or Army club, plucking them from such Budapest clubs as Kispest.

The major exception was Hidegkuti, who played for the old MTK club, now named Voros Logobo, or Red Banner. I first saw Hungary play in Rome in May 1953 when they comfortably beat a far from disgraced Italy 3-0, and impressed me enormously. I remember then writing an article to warn that when they came to Wembley the following November, England could expect a very hard time indeed, and so it would prove.

The pattern of the Hungarian team was for Hidegkuti to lurk just behind Puskas and Kocsis, with Bozsik lending strong support from the midfield. The notional left half, Zakarias, tended to operate alongside the big blond centre half, Lorant. Those two devastating victories over England might have suggested that the Hungarians, who had dynamically won the 1952 Olympic title,were irresistible.Sweden under that crafty little coach George Raynor would prove otherwise, though it was ludicrous to read the insular opinion of Frank Coles, then sports editor of the Daily Telegraph, after the Helsinki Games. What, he asked himself, would an English first division side, fighting for League points, do against the Hungarians? The answer: they would run through them!

Two weeks before Hungary came to Wembley and ran through England, they entertained Sweden. Ever ebullient, Raynor told his team that were they to win, he would paint the moustache on Stalin's statue red! So unlike the over theoretical and impractical Walter Winterbottom, the English manager, Raynor had studied Hungary and knew how much depended on Hidegkuti.So for the first half of the game he man marked Nandor with his centre forward, the second half with his inside-left. This largely neutralised the Hungarian playmaker and Sweden managed to force a 2-2 draw.

By sharp contrast, when Hungary two weeks later came to Wembley, Winterbottom had devised no such plan. In future years he tried to diminish and disparage the Swedish draw, but the truth was that his approach was so naive as to be almost suicidal. What he did was merely to ask Harry Johnston, the Blackpool and England centre half, whether he wanted to close mark Hidegkuti, or stand off him. Johnston replied that he'd prefer to stand off him. Winterbottom left it at that. He didn't depute anyone else to stay close to Hidegkuti and the result was disaster. The game was barely ninety seconds old when Hidegkuti with space to spare and a clever feint put Johnston on the wrong foot then crashed a right footed shot past the fallible goalkeeper, Gil Merrick. He would go on to score twice more as England, though he did equalise, were taken apart.

Perhaps the most spectacular goal came when Puskas received the ball, to be challenged by the blond England wing half and captain, Billy Wright. Puskas simply drew the ball back with the sole of his boot and in the delightful words of The Times Geoffrey Green, "Wright went past him like a fire engine going to the wrong fire." Whereat Puskas simply and coolly shot and scored. Such was the impression the Hungarians made that a book was soon on sale called Learn To Play The Hungarian Way.

From that moment, everything Hungarian in football seemed right, while everything in English football seemed wrong. We were regaled with articles on how the Hungarians trained their players, with a variety of different sports, how they perfected their technique, how they refined their tactics. There was no doubt at all that English football, then very much rooted in the past with minimal attention to ball skills, had something to learn from Hungarian methods yet by the 1958 World Cup, when Puskas, Kocsis and Czibor had defected, taking advantage of the fact that Honved were on a foreign tour at the time of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and going off to make money in Spain, Hungary were just an ordinary team. What became quite clear was that the basis of their brilliant success was that a crop of remarkable players just happened to emerge together. Once they had gone or, like Hidegkuti and Bozsik in 1958, had aged and slowed, the national team was common place.

Yet when it came to the Swiss World Cup, who, it was wondered, could beat Hungary? Even today, you wonder what might have happened had Puskas not been injured, had not virtually talked his way back into the team for the Final against Germany, missing chances he would normally have taken. Or whether things would have been so different had the apparent equaliser he scored, going through alone, for 3-3, not been disallowed by the flag of the Welsh linesman Mervyn Griffiths, supported by the English referee, Bill Ling. Many believed that Puskas had not been off side. Or, moving into murkier waters, if the Germans had not shown such remarkable physical stamina, never ceasing to run at full pelt throughout the game?

The question still remains, were they on some kind of drug? Puskas himself insisted that they were, declaring that he had been into their dressing room after the game to see their players vomiting. And though this was scornfully denied by the German skipper Fritz Walter, who insisted that Puskas hadn't even been in the dressing room, it was perhaps significant that so many of the German players should go down with jaundice and be out of action for months to come.

Hungary began their programme in a farcically organised tournament with a 9-0 win against feeble South Korea in Zurich; but then they were celebrated for sharpening their team before major games by scoring a host of goals against obscure sparring partners. Of these nine, Kocsis got three, Puskas two as did Palotas, the centre forward who would some-times stand in for Hidegkuti. Next, an 8-3 win in Basel over Germany which would give this tournament a dimension of farce. For in the last analysis it would mean less than nothing. Indeed you might cynically say that the most important kick of the whole game was administered by the German centre half Werner Liebrich to Puskas, putting him out of action till the Final itself when he was arguably not wholly fit to play.

But beyond doubt, Puskas was the main man in the Hungarian set up. Gyula Mandi was the nominal manager, but he in turn was overshadowed by Gystav Sebes the deputy minister of sports who made the statements and appeared to call the shots. The story goes however that after he had given a long team talk in the dressing room at Wembley before the game against England, Puskas had simply told the players to forget all that and conveyed his instructions in short and simple terms.

The Germans, meanwhile, were overwhelmed. Four goals for Kocsis this time, a couple for Hidegkuti, just one for Puskas. But the Germans had put out a team of which only half a dozen would play in the final.

Next to the quarter-finals and the notorious Battle of Berne against Brazil. A game which would surely have finished in total chaos were it not for the brave refereeing of England's Arthur Ellis. The Hungarians who won 4-2 were hardly the culprits. Indeed, when Hidegkuti scored in only the third minute, stealing in to hit a left wing corner into the roof of the net, he had his shorts torn off. Just five minutes later, undismayed, it was his immaculate cross which Kocsis headed in: 2-0.

In the mud, under the rain, the game became increasingly harsh. When Hungary's right back Buzansky brought down Indio, big right back Djalma Santos - later to be seen chasing Czibor, spitting and threatening - scored from the spot. But Hungary themselves converted a penalty when, on 60 minutes, Pinhiero, the Brazilian centre half, handled a cross from Kocsis, left back Lantos making it 3-1.

Still the game was open and a glorious goal by powerful Brazilian right winger Julinho, an electric solo, a devastating shot, made it 3-2. Now Nilton Santos, the Brazilian left back, and Bozsik came to blows; both were expelled by Arthur Ellis.

Chaos threatened. Police were on the field. Fists flew. Four minutes from the end, Ellis sent off Humberto Tozzi, the Brazilian inside-left, who fell dramatically but vainly to his knees to plead for mercy. A minute more, and Czibor, at inside-left for Puskas, crossed for the unforgiving head of Kocsis to make it 4-2. Who knows what really happened in the dressing rooms afterwards. A pitched battle? Was Puskas attacked with a broken bottle or did he attack someone else? Did Gustav Sebes have his cheek scarred? Rumours abounded.

The ensuing semi-final between Hungary and Uruguay at Lausanne was blessedly calm, and a superb exhibition of football by both sides. If Hungary were minus Puskas, then Uruguay missed the mighty Varela and their centre forward, Miguez.

Perhaps the Uruguayans would have prevailed had their resilient defender Rodriguez Andrade not been injured and off the field when in the last five minutes of extra time, Kocsis headed one of his two spectacular goals. As it was, the Ukrainians, with two goals by their naturalised Argentine centre forward, Juan Hohberg, had wiped out what seemed a conclusive 2-0 deficit to force the game into that extra half hour.

Hungary, with Peter Palotas at centre forward, Hidegkuti inside-left, Czibor back on the wing, went up in 15 minutes, Czibor belting in a header from Kocsis. On 47 minutes came a second, right back Buzansky sending Budai and Bozsik away, Hidegkuti heading the right winger's cross past Maspoli. But Juan Schiaffino, officially at centre forward, now began to work his wiles. Twice he put Hohberg through, twice Hohberg scored. 2-2 and in extra time Hohberg was clear again, this time to hit the post. So Hungary went through.

They were clear favourites for the final even if the Germans had thrashed Austria 6-1 in the other semi-final. After all, had they not scored eight times against the Germans previously? But this was to be a very different ball game, one in which Puskas had insisted that he play, to the probable detriment of his team. Just as against Uruguay, Hungary went two up then fell back to 2-2, but now things would be different.

In Berne, Czibor not Budai played on the right flank. Both were said to have fallen out with Puskas. Yet in six minutes Hungary were one up, in eight minutes, two ahead. When Bozsik put Kocsis through with a superb low pass, Kocsis shot was blocked, but Puskas scored. Next, Kocsis was blocked again, chasing a misplaced back pass by left back Kohlmeyer and it was Czibor who followed up to score. Many teams would have been demoralised, but not the Germans.

In only three minutes, Morlock diverted a fast cross from Fritz Walter past Grosics. Then Helmut Rahn, that charging bull of an outside-right, drove in a corner to make it 2-2. Now they had to pass an inspired keeper in Turek. He saved superbly from a Kocsis header, Hidegkuti hit the post, Turek in the opening half hour of the second half made two tremendous stops from Puskas. In midfield Eckel and Mai had taken an increasing grip. In the 85th minute, Bozsik misplaced a pass, Hans Schaefer, left winger, found Fritz Walter and when his centre was half cleared Rahn drove home the goal which won the World Cup. There was time for Puskas to dash clear and beat Turek only for the unforgiving flag of Mervyn Griffiths to deny him: and Hungary, surely the best team in the competition. "Our greatest enemy is not so much physical fatigue as nervous tension," Gustav Sebes had said. And then there was Rahn.