While Hungarian football has been enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, it would take some doing to reach the level of the mid-20th Century. Here is a look back at that ‘Golden Era’, spread over the course of three memorable major tournaments.
In what was only Hungary’s second time competing at the world championships – and the third held in the tournament’s history – the Magyarok nearly went all the way in France 1938. It was the last tournament to use a straight knockout format, consisting of 15 teams after Austria withdrew from the tournament, following their union with Germany soon after tournament qualification was complete.
Unfortunately for Hungary, their qualification for the 2022 World Cup didn’t go to plan as they continue to struggle to live up to other teams in their storied history; they finished fourth in a tough group from which England and Poland emerged. The Three Lions have betting football odds of 8.0 to go on and win the tournament in Qatar, while Poland are among the football predictions from Paddy Power to proceed from Group C. Back in 1938, Hungary certainly didn’t have too many issues reaching the final, as they dispatched the likes of Dutch East Indies 6-0 and Sweden 5-1 on route to the final. Unfortunately for the Magyarok, here they fell to a 4-2 defeat to the holders Italy, despite goals from Pal Titkos and Gyorgy Sarosi.
The complete 2022 World Cup groups.
CAN’T. WAIT 🍿 pic.twitter.com/dDqooEq7zc
— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 14, 2022
Back in Euro 1964, Hungary fell at the second-last hurdle to the hosts of the final tournament, Spain, as covered on the official UEFA site. In the build-up to the last four, Austria, Luxembourg, USSR and Albania received byes to the round of 16, while Hungary defeated Wales by an aggregate score of 4-2. The round of 16 was a thrilling affair, with Hungary’s 2-1 victory in East Germany followed by a 3-3 draw in Budapest amounting to a 5-4 aggregate win.
The quarter-finals were slightly more comfortable, though, with a home and away double over France securing a 5-2 victory to send the Magyarok into the last four, in what was their first-ever European Championships. It would end up leading to heartbreak against the Spanish in the semi-final, however, after a late Ferenc Bene goal had sent the tie to extra-time and increased the hope of the visitors. Amancio’s 112th-minute goal downed the Hungarians, as they went on to win the tournament on home soil.
It would be impossible to analyse Hungary’s glory era without the mention of the Golden Team of the 1954 World Cup, which is arguably the best team to never win the World Cup according to The Guardian. With a core squad of Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor led by the infamous Ferenc Puskas, Hungary stormed through a challenging knockout stage, starting with a 4-2 victory over Brazil in the quarter-finals. They then went on to beat Uruguay by the same scoreline in the semis, albeit after extra time, setting up a final against West Germany in Berne.
What is known by the Germans as ‘the Miracle of Berne’ is instead viewed by Hungarians with disdain. After Puskas and Czibor had given the Magyarok a 2-0 lead within eight minutes, the Germans had made it 2-2 just ten minutes later. Despite Hungary being the heavy favourites, especially after demolishing the West Germans 8-3 in Group 2 earlier in the tournament, Helmut Rahn got his second of the match to make it 3-2 with six minutes remaining. Puskas’ late equaliser was controversially ruled offside, as the final whistle brought elation for West Germany but heartbreak for Hungary.
Miracle of Bern, Fritz-Walter-Weather, Adi Dassler’s exchangeable studs ⛈👞
— FIFA Museum (@FIFAMuseum) November 15, 2022
While Hungary’s international players will be earning a well-earned rest over this World Cup period, preparations will already be in place for their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign. They come up against Bulgaria, Lithuania, Montenegro and Serbia in Group G.