The Battle of Berne had tested Hungary’s physical and mental resolve like never before. The fouling and fighting took its toll, but the Hungarians had triumphed over Brazil. They moved on to the semifinals where they would face an even tougher test against Uruguay. In the space of just two matches, the Hungarians would go from playing in one of the most embarrassing matches in football history to possibly the greatest match up to that time. The Uruguayans offered a completely different test based on skill and strategic play. It was a truly remarkable matchup as the current Olympic champions went up against the defending World Cup champs. The Uruguayans were undefeated in World Cup play, winning both times they entered in 1930 and 1950. The latter had produced the greatest upset in World Cup history when they defeated hosts Brazil in Rio before a crowd of 200,000 – the largest ever for a football match – cheering against them. The Uruguayan squad that traveled to Switzerland for their first World Cup overseas was in fine form. In the preliminaries they defeated Czechoslovakia 2-0 and annihilated a good Scottish team by the surprising score of 7 -0. They then faced England in the quarterfinals. Many contemporary observers believed that the English played their best World Cup match ever. Nevertheless, Uruguay still prevailed 4 – 2. The forthcoming Hungary versus Uruguay contest was much anticipated. Many experts thought that these were the two best teams in the tournament. The match would certainly live up to expectations.
Under Siege From The Start – Hungary Attacks
A notable aspect of Hungary’s 1954 World Cup performance was the speed with which they were able to score their first goal. In four of six matches they scored by the eight minute mark. The longest they took to score in any match was the thirteen minute mark against Uruguay. This was certainly not due to a lack of opportunities. Minutes after the opening kick Hungary was in all-out attack mode. The Uruguayan goalkeeper Roque Maspoli was under siege right from the start. First he saved a shot from the unsung forward Peter Palotas, next he watched as a shot from Josef Bozsik went just wide. Then the always prolific Nandor Hidegkuti narrowly missed a shot from an acute angle on the left. It seemed that the Hungarians might score at any moment. That is precisely what they did when Hidegkuti lofted the ball to “Golden Head” Sandor Kocsis who sent it on to Zoltan Czibor who volleyed it into the net. Maspoli could only look on in disbelief.
Down a goal the Uruguayans discovered their offensive energy. They began to control the ball more, but failed to create a breakthrough. Much of the Uruguayan’s inability to score was because of the Hungarian keeper-sweeper Gyula Grosics. True to his reputation Grosics came out from beyond the goal to sweep long balls clear before they could do any damage. Just before half it was Hungary’s turn once again. Kocsis measured up another fierce header, but Maspoli anticipated perfectly. As both sides went to the locker room Hungary held a 1-0 advantage. The first half had been played at near warp speed. These were two teams at the height of their powers, a display of marvelous technical skill and total confidence.
Tied Up & Knocked Out – Uruguay’s Comeback
The high quality of play by both teams continued after the half with the Hungarians once again in the ascendant. They came out once again pressing the attack. A golden opportunity arose when the Hungarians intercepted a bad clearance shot. Midfielder Laszlo Budai – who would controversially be replaced for the final match by star striker Ferenc Puskas – sent a cross that was headed in by Hidegkuti just a minute into the 2nd half. With a two goal lead it seemed that nothing could stop the Hungarians now. They came close to scoring a couple of more times. It looked like the game was about to turn into a rout, but Uruguay had other ideas. Perhaps they drew on confidence sustained from their previous World Cup comeback four years earlier, when they overcame a one goal deficit to defeat Brazil in the final. Whatever the case, Uruguay began to surge.
They were led by the creative playmaking of Juan Schiaffino and the shooting prowess of Juan Hohberg. The duo teamed up on two scores in the 75th and 86th minutes. On the latter goal Hohberg rifled a shot into the top of the net. A wild celebration ensued that ended up with Hohberg being knocked out by his own teammates. He would soon return to his feet. The Hungarians were the ones who were truly reeling. Their supposedly insurmountable lead had vanished in eleven minutes. Uruguay looked to be on the verge of another incredible comeback. Hohberg came within inches of a hat trick in the first period of extra time when Schiaffino fed him the ball once again. This time his shot smacked the bottom of the post. Victory was that close, but it would not come any closer.
All Downhill From Here – A Last Grasp For Greatness
The second period of extra time started with the game now at 120 minutes and counting. This time the Hungarians were able to deliver two lethal blows. First Kocsis hit one of his trademark headers off a cross from Budai to give them the lead. Then Kocsis struck again a few minutes later as he headed home Boszik’s center. The Magical Magyars went on to close out a closely fought 4-2 triumph in a game that was talked about for years to come. The Uruguayans had shown their determination once again. Sadly the game would be their last high point for many decades. Uruguayan football went into terminal decline following the 1954 World Cup. It would take over a half century before they would return to the semifinals. Ironically the Hungarian victory was also their last real feat of World Cup acclaim. They have yet to return to a World Cup semifinal. No one knew this at the time though. For the moment, Hungary looked forward to a return match with West Germany, a team they had destroyed in the group round. It looked nearly certain that Hungary would win the championship. That was until they played the actual game.