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Hungarian football re-emerges out of obscurity

Roar Guru
15th June, 2016
15

Ferenc Puskas is a name that the world of football has almost forgotten and Hungary is a team that no one has taken seriously for decades.

That should not be the case.

In the 1950s, Hungary revolutionised the world game by laying the foundations of ‘Total Football’ that in later years Holland made their own.

They dominated world football with their golden generation, the Magnificent Magyars, led by the legendary Puskas, the top goalscorer of the 20th century.

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In 1953, Puskas’ Hungary had the distinction of defeating an England side, in England, for the first time in 90 years. They won 6-3 in front of 105,000 spectators, embarrassing English fans and the establishment’s assumption that they were technically and physically superior to all rivals.

The Hungarian display on the field also showed the English that they had been left behind thanks to their complacency. Dubbed the match of the century, this game is credited with prompting a complete change in training and tactics at English clubs and at international level, which was to have a significant bearing on the future of English football.

In 1954, the English team visited Hungary and lost 7-1, which remains England’s worst international defeat to date. In Hungary, they coined a saying which, roughly translated, goes like this: “The English came for 1-7 (one week or seven days) and went home with 7-1.”

England’s Syd Owen commented after the match, “it was like playing men from outer space”.

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In 1954, Hungary also achieved the second highest all-time Elo Ranking of 2166, and that side also had one of the longest undefeated runs in football history of 31 games over a four-year period.

In the 1960s, Hungary enjoyed a high rate of success, although with less dominance than they had in the 50s. The team started to fade away during the 1970s although they qualified for Euro 1972 and finished fourth.

The Magnificent Magyars faded into oblivion thereafter reaching the low point of finishing sixth in their qualification group for Euro 2008.

This is 2016 and Hungary are back at the Euro for the first time in 44 years. 1972 is a lifetime ago for fans and Puskas a magnificent but remote historical figure. So what does the future hold for the team that taught the world how to play Total Football?

On June 14, 2016, the 20th ranked Hungary faced off for their first Euro tie in 44 years against Austria, ranked ten places above them on the FIFA rankings. Among history buffs (who also follow football), this was poetic justice.

Between 1867 and 1918, Europe was dominated by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the second largest country in Europe after Russia. It was ruled by the House of Habsburg. In 1867, Emperor Franz Josef granted autonomy to Hungary and hence made the Austrian empire into the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On June 14, 2016, the Hungarians returned the favour by comprehensively beating David Alaba’s fancied Austrians 2-0.

The fact that the Hungarians won the match is good news for the country of course, given that it’s taken 44 years to get back into the Euro. But it’s not the whole story.

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This is a team that is fighting for lost glory. With this victory, goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, aged 40 years and 75 days, became the oldest player to feature in the Euro finals and emerge with a victory and a clean sheet, and Adam Szalai scored the first goal for his country in his 39 appearances for Hungary.

The team has miles to go to be serious contenders for any titles anytime soon, but with Portugal failing to beat Iceland in a relatively weak group, Hungary suddenly find themselves at the top of Group F after their opening match.

Somewhere there is a spark of hope, that a couple of good games or three, and this Hungarian team may well find themselves at the last eight stage of Euro 2016. And as Greece showed in 2004, miracles do happen.

Ferenc Puskas, watching from above, will be rooting for his boys to do a Greece at Euro 2016.