A Brilliance Beyond 1954: The Last Triumph of Hungarian Football

For all the accolades showered on Hungary’s “Golden Team” there is one achievement that gets scant notice. After their 32 game unbeaten run was broken by West Germany in the 1954 World Cup Final, the Golden Team did not suddenly collapse despite a hostile Hungarian public and a government searching for scapegoats. Instead they continued to play at an incredibly high level. They did not give into defeatism or wallow in the sorrow of that stunning loss. For a year and a half they continued to beat one team after another, much the same as they had before the World Cup loss. Even after they lost a game in 1956, the Hungarians rose to the occasion one final time in Moscow to defeat what was soon to become their nation’s greatest foe.

Setting Records & Precedents – Kocsis Rises To The Occasion
Two months after the 1954 World Cup, Hungary began to play internationals once again. The loss to West Germany seemed to have little effect on their play. The star during this period was Sandor Kocsis. He had been the leading scorer in the World Cup, netting eleven goals. He kept up that pace for the rest of 1954 and into 1955. In the first ten internationals Hungary played after the loss, Kocsis scored 16 goals, including five multi-goal games. His prolific scoring ability helped carry the team as Kocsis set a standard unmatched in football history. He still holds the all-time record for average goals per game against FIFA Class A competition. In one of those matches, a friendly played in September 1954 against the Soviet Union in Moscow, he scored the lone Hungarian goal in a 1-1 draw. This was as close as the Soviets had ever come to losing at home. It would not be the last time the teams met in a precedent setting match in Moscow.

In the winter of 1954 Hungary traveled to Glasgow where they faced Scotland in front of a massive crowd of 113,000 at Hampden Park. This was the largest crowd the Hungarians would play in front of during the 1950’s. The Scots were well aware of what the Hungarians had done in their two earlier routs of England. Their strategy was very different from England’s. They launched fierce counterattacks in an effort to put Hungary on the defensive. These tactics were only partially successful. Hungary scored the first two goals and held the lead throughout the game, but the Scots showed great resolve. They pulled to within 3-2 a minute into the second half. From that point, the Scots narrowly missed on several shots that would have leveled the game. Only in the final minute did Hungary put the game away when Kocsis scored. The Magic of the Magyars was on full display that afternoon. They showed that even on the road, in the face of fierce resistance both on the field and in the stands, a top notch opponent was still no match for their brilliance. In the return affair in Budapest six months later Hungary triumphed once again, winning 3-1 before 100,000 of their countrymen.

Heading up the team - Sandor Kocsis

Heading up the team – Sandor Kocsis

Ending An Era – One For The Road
From September 1954 until the end of 1955, Hungary played 19 games, winning 16 matches and drawing three others. This was part of a six year run where they only lost once in 52 games. Then starting with their inaugural match in 1956 they hit a shockingly bad streak. First, they played poorly in a 3-1 road loss to Turkey. In their next match at home they tied Yugoslavia. The decline continued when they suffered their first home loss in an international match since 1943 as they were soundly defeated by Czechoslovakia 4-2. A couple of weeks later they traveled to Belgium where they would attempt to break a losing streak, something none of the Hungarian players had ever experienced playing for the national team. They raced out to a 3-1 lead, only to collapse in the second half, allowing four goals and losing 5-4. Changes would now have to be made. Blame focused on the coach, Gusztav Sebesz. For years he had been hailed as a footballing genius, a master of tactics, who had built the most brilliant team in football history. Ever since the World Cup loss, Sebes had become increasingly suspect in the eyes of the communist government. Following the loss to Belgium, he was relieved of his duties. Sebes would never again be allowed to manage the national team. The end of an era was close at hand.

The domestic situation in Hungary began to resemble the national team’s collapse. The Soviets removed the hardline Hungarian dictator Matyas Rakosi from power. Stalinist-era purges were denounced and victims were rehabilitated. This thaw unleashed pent up frustration about the country’s direction under the communist regime. Once the edifice of stability had cracked, it was not long before it began to crumble. The country was headed toward revolution. The Hungarian national football team dramatically inserted itself into this fraught situation when on September 23, 1956 they played the Soviet Union at Lenin Central Stadium in Moscow. The Soviets had never lost an international match at home. The 102,000 spectators on hand fully expected to witness another triumph by a team that was seen as an icon of what the Soviet system could produce. The Hungarians were seen as well past their prime, even though all the old war horses – Bozsik, Czibor, Grosics, Hidegkuti, Kocsis and Puskas – were still playing in the match. In the 16th minute, Czibor scored the lone goal of the game. It was an incredible upset in the backyard of worldwide communist officialdom.

The revolution to come in Hungary - autumn 1956

The revolution to come in Hungary – autumn 1956

Anything Is Possible – On The Edge Of Revolution
The Hungarians had conjured another remarkable victory. At the same time they helped stoke a patriotic fervor sweeping across the nation in what would be the final month before the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The nation’s pride swelled as anything seemed possible. Their football team had defeated the best squad the Soviets had ever assembled. Once again it seemed that nothing could stop these Magical Magyars. That was until the outbreak of a revolution that would change Hungary and the Hungarian national football team forever.

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