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Hungary still mourns World Cup loss
Zoltan Fazekas and David Chance | July 02, 2004 18:25 IST
The Euro 2004 final will be the main focus for soccer fans worldwide on Sunday, but for Hungarian football July 4 means only one thing: the day 50 years ago when its "Golden Team" lost the World Cup final 3-2 to West Germany.
The nation of 10 million people still dwells on memories of Ferenc Puskas, Nandor Hidegkuti, Gyula Grosics, Sandor Kocsis and Jeno Buzanszky, who formed the heart of one of the greatest national teams the world has seen.
Just three of those players are still alive -- Puskas, who is ill, Grosics and Buzanszky.
Hungarian football is unrecognisable from the glory years when the national team scored 220 goals in 51 matches between June 1950 and November 1955, bewitching England 6-3 at Wembley and thumping them 7-1 in Budapest.
Now managed by Germany's most-capped player, Lothar Matthaeus, Hungary languish in 74th place in the world rankings, behind Burkina Faso and Bosnia.
State television will run a two-and-a-half hour documentary on Friday with 40 minutes of play from the 1954 final, in which a disallowed goal from Puskas in the dying minutes of the game ended an unbeaten run of 33 games over three-and-a-half years.
Grosics, the outspoken, anti-communist goalkeeper of the celebrated team, believes the final had major effects on Hungarian soccer and on the dark days of the 1956 uprising.
"I am going to watch the programme on Friday but I already know it will hurt. I will never forget that sad day and I will think about that till the day of my death," he told Reuters.
For Germany as well as Hungary, the 1954 game in Switzerland lies at the heart of the national consciousness.
The 3-2 victory for a workman-like West German team is widely regarded as helping the country to re-emerge on the international stage after World War Two and is even credited by some with helping to start the country's economic revival.
In 2003, Germany celebrated the game with a film called the "The Miracle of Berne", which Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said made him cry.
In Hungary, the defeat was greeted by riots and the team, fearful they would be punished by the communist government, had to be talked into returning home.
"That game was the biggest disaster of the entire Hungarian soccer history. Personally I could never put the failure behind (me)," said Grosics, who lost out on a series of international caps because of his political beliefs.
"The English referee made two horrible mistakes. First, he allowed Helmut Rahn's goal although I was held up by Hans Schafer as he grabbed me before they scored," he said.
"The second error came when he disallowed Puskas's equaliser, which was the perfect goal as everyone could see when a few years later the media played new footage of the match."
Two years later the dream was over and the team broke up after the brutal Soviet suppression of the 1956 uprising.
Hungary tasted some success in the 1960s, but it is more than 30 years since they last qualified for the final stages of Europe's biggest competition and the team have not reached the last four World Cups.
Matthaeus's team most recently managed a 2-0 victory in a friendly over the German team who made an early exit from Euro 2004, but defeats by Wales and Estonia and a 4-1 thrashing by Brazil at home have thrown the hazy, black-and-white footage from 1954 into sharp relief.
Puskas, along with many others, stayed in the west after the uprising. The "Galloping Major" won fame as one of the "Angels of Bernabeu" alongside Alfredo di Stefano and Francisco Gento at Real Madrid.
He even played four times for Spain after switching federations.
Puskas still holds the record for the most goals scored for a national team, a staggering 83 goals in 84 matches for Hungary.
But many Hungarians would argue that his record should stand at 84 goals in 84 games, plus of course a World Cup winner's medal.