Last week marked the latest point in a FIFA men’s World Cup summer at which Hungary have retained hope of ultimate glory, 53 years ago in the last week of July 1966 in England. With this in mind and as part of a three-part series, we look back at Hungary’s past World Cup performances and see how far they have progressed each time. Finally, the tournament in 1966 and since.
According to mlsz.hu, Hungary reached their fourth consecutive FIFA World Cup – and third under the leadership of Lajos Baróti – by virtue of topping a tough, three-team qualifying group which included Austria and East Germany. In keeping with the impressive nature of Hungarian football in the 1960s, it was a talented squad that Baróti took to England, one which could even afford to do without Újpest star János Göröcs, who at that time played in the same position as Ferencváros great Flórián Albert. Göröcs’ clubmate Antal Dunai also missed out through injury but the likes of playmaker Zoltán Varga and dangerous forwards Ferenc Bene, Lajos Tichy, Lajos Puskás and János Farkas were all present in a highly-skilled squad.
However, the opening match at Old Trafford, Manchester didn’t go to plan at all. Goalkeeper Antal Szentmihályi was concussed in a collision with teammate Gyula Rákosi in the warm-up and was still groggy when a 2nd-minute corner came in and José Augusto headed into the Hungary net. Albert’s header on 30 minutes rebounded off the crossbar before the ame player slid in Bene who equalised on the hour mark. The waves of attacks had taken their toll on Hungary though, and it was Portugal who drew blood next, José Augusto scoring his second header of the match in the 67th minute from a rebound. José Torres put the seal on a 3-1 win with a 90th-minute header from a Eusébio corner.
With their next opponents in Group C being holders Brazil at Goodison Park, Liverpool, Magyar fans could have been forgiven for thinking their chances of progression were already over, but instead their hopes were reignited in glorious fashion.
Ferenc Bene was the catalyst, weaving his way as he did through the Brazil defence in just the fourth minute before slotting the ball inside the Brazil goalkeeper’s left post for a truly memorable World Cup goal. Tostao’s fine finish into the top-right corner of József Gellei’s goal (the Ferencváros keeper having replaced Szentmihályi) levelled matters ten minutes later but János Farkas’ outstanding low volley in the 65th minute and Kálmán Mészöly’s penalty after Bene had been upended handed Hungary an extremely popular 3-1 victory, the capacity crowd singing their appreciation after the final whistle for the marvellous football on display.
Brazil’s subsequent defeat to Portugal left Hungary needing only a point from their final group match against Bulgaria at Old Trafford to qualify for the quarter-finals, but they were made to work hard to get what they wanted, Georgi Asparukhov putting the group’s basement team ahead after only a quarter of an hour. A fortunate own goal from Hungary’s perspective by Ivan Davidov restored parity in the 42nd minute and there was still time before the break for Mészöly to blast a second goal past the Bulgaria goalkeeper following a Bene corner and put Hungary ahead at the break.Ten minutes into the second half and Bene would turn from provider to scorer as he headed in a left-wing corner from Rákosi to seal Hungary’s 3-1 success.
This set up a last-eight contest with the Soviet Union but for the third time in four matches Hungary found themselves a goal down early on.
This time, Gellei failed to cleanly gather a low shot from the left wing by Anatoliy Banishevskiy in just the third minute and Igor Chislenko was on hand to tap the ball over the goal line. Attacking by nature, Hungary pushed for an equaliser but instead it was the Soviet Union who doubled their lead, a left-wing free-kick in the 47th minute only helped on its way by Mészöly and Valeriy Porkuyan tapping in from close range with Gellei stranded. Albert set up Bene for an excellent goal just before the hour but a desperate subsequent push for parity was in vain, Yashin superbly saving Ferenc Sipos’ free-kick and Rákosi unluckily missed his kick just three metres from goal. Baróti’s Hungary thus exited the World Cup at the quarter-final stage again and this time they would have rather longer than four years to wait for another chance to shine on the world stage.
The next two editions of the World Cup were notable for Hungary’s absence but 1978 in Argentina saw the famous red, white and green flag flying at FIFA’s premier tournament once again. After a gap of 12 years, Lajos Baróti returned as head coach a short time before the tournament but alas, there was little cheer for Hungarian fans as Tibor Nyilasi and András Törőcsik were dismissed in an opening 3-1 defeat against Argentina, which was then followed by a brace of 3-1 defeats to Italy and France in an admittedly very tough group.
Four years later in Spain yielded a similar result in that Hungary – now led by a famous name of yesteryear in Kálmán Mészöly – exited at the end of the first group stage, but there was one remarkable result in amongst a 4-1 loss to Argentina and a 1-1 draw against Belgium, that of an incredible 10 (ten!)-1 defeat of El Salvador in Elche. Tibor Nyilasi started the rout in the fourth minute and the score was already 5-0 by half-time before László Kiss became the first substitute to score a World Cup hat-trick after entering play in the 56th minute.
The victory, the biggest ever in the 52-year history of the tournament, was the undoubted highlight for Hungary.
Mexico was the host for the 1986 World Cup, which Hungary qualified for at the expense of Austria amongst others, and the omens looked good after a tremendous 3-0 victory in a warm-up match against Brazil in Budapest at Easter time. However, György Mezey’s Hungary, ranked third in the world going into the tournament, failed to deal with the obstacles they encountered, suffering a damaging 6-0 defeat to the Soviet Union and a 3-0 loss to a Michel Platini-inspired France in between a routine 2-0 victory over Canada.
This was the most recent World Cup Hungary have contested. Hopefully it won’t be too long before our men’s or women’s full international squads represent the country on the greatest stage once again.