Hungary were the dominant national team of the early 1950s. In 1952, Ferenc Puskas captained his country to Olympic Gold in Helsinki and the “Magical Magyars” arrived at the 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland undefeated in four years. Their most resounding victory to date had been achieved the previous year in London's Wembley Stadium.
England had never lost a home game to a team from outside of Britain, but the 25th of November 1953 saw an end to that record. Hungary emerged emphatic 6-3 victors in a contest that would go down in history as one of the matches of the century. Puskas and co. gave a master class of wonderfully varied short and long passing in front of 100,000 supporters, outclassing the bemused and ultimately humbled hosts.
Puskas was born in 1927 in Budapest and embarked on his football career at an early age, playing for his father’s club, Kispest Budapest. By the time he was 16, the diminutive striker was a first team regular, his ambition and iron will already evident despite his tender years. Puskas made his international debut at the age of 18 against Austria. The fixture was Hungary’s first since the Second World War and witnessed the birth of an unparalleled career in their national colours.
An unlikely footballer in many respects, Puskas was small and overweight, not particularly strong in the air and was exclusively left-footed. But, his gifts were undeniable, as the statistics show. In 84 international appearances, Puskas scored 83 goals -- a strike rate unmatched in international football. Puskas’ home club Kispest became an army team in 1948 and were renamed Honved. Thus the star striker earned the sobriquet of the ‘Galloping Major’, in recognition of his army rank. He would play for Honved until 1956.
The fulcrum makes history
This Hungarian team, built around Puskas, played football differently than had been seen before. The striker was the fulcrum and linchpin of the side that in just one game had destroyed the myth of supremacy England had enjoyed in world football. Puskas scored two goals, while his ideal strike partner Nandor Hidegkuti helped himself to a hat-trick. However, the humiliation did not end there. Less than six months later, England received their second lesson, when Hungary won the return fixture 7-1.
Hungary played a revolutionary brand of attacking football with Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti and Puskas. Kocsis and Puskas were the driving forces of the team from the inside-right and left positions respectively, while central striker Hidegkuti liked to drop deep. Puskas unleashed shots of incredible power and precision with his left foot. The compact striker was the brains of the team, a fantastic playmaker and passer of the ball, who always shone in the national shirt.
Hungary were the undeniable favourites for Switzerland ’54. The so-called “Wonder Team” had the strongest forward line in the world, and were quick to demonstrate their firepower at the tournament in Switzerland. They humiliated South Korea 9-0 in their opening game before sweeping aside a second-string Germany team 8-3. However, the victory against Germany came at a great cost – Ferenc Puskas.
The Hungarian star man injured his ankle in a tackle with Germany’s Werder Liebrich and was forced to sit out the quarter-final and semi-final. Puskas could only watch from the stands as his team-mates recorded 4-2 victories over Brazil (cemented in history as the bad-tempered “Battle of Berne”) and two-time FIFA World Cup champions Uruguay in the semi-final.
Not fully fit
All eyes were on Puskas in the 1954 final. Would the Hungarian captain rise to the occasion? Was he completely over his injury? The supremely talented Hungarian did not want to miss the match, the pinnacle of his career to date. And so Puskas played, though clearly not fully fit.
The Magical Magyars enjoyed a perfect start. Puskas seemingly silencing all the doubters by finding the net in just the sixth minute to open the score. Two minutes later, it was 2-0, and Hungary were sitting pretty. However, Germany responded, drew level before the break, and ultimately won the game 3-2. The outsiders had won the FIFA World Cup, handing Hungary their first loss in four years and leaving one of the greatest teams in het history of football without the biggest honour of them all.