Long gone are the days of Hungary competing in a World Cup final and sitting on top of the Elo rankings. The Mighty Magyars used to be the best team in the world. It’s intriguing to think that Germany’s 3-2 win over them in the 1954 World Cup final was one of the world’s all-time great upsets.
Times have changed, though. If Germany were to beat Hungary 3-2 nowadays, it would still be considered an upset, but because the scoreline was so narrow. Because Germany “only” won with a one-goal margin and the fact that Hungary scored two goals. That would be the sensational thing about that scoreline – not that Germany won. Metaphorically speaking, the history of Hungary’s national team is best described as two humps on a camel. Their initial rise during the 1930s followed by a decline in the 1940s. However, considering it a decline is a little bit unfair since it was due to the breakout of World War two, which made every national team decline.
The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of Hungary
Hungary and West Germany at the 1954 FIFA World Cup
Nonetheless, they experienced a meteoric rise during the 1950s. Hungary soared through the group stage of the 1954 FIFA World Cup, defeating South Korea 9-0 and West Germany 8-3. Incredible. They maintained this consistency in the knockout stage, winning 4-2 against Brazil and Uruguay in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.
Excluding West Germany’s 8-3 loss against Hungary, their tournament was solid. 4-1 Against Turkey and then 7-2 in their tiebreaker. West Germany faced slightly worse teams in their knockout stage fixtures, but their performance was superb nonetheless. 2-0 against Yugoslavia in the quarter-final and 6-1 against Austria in the semis.
1954 FIFA World Cup Final
At first, it seemed the final would be a routine win for the highly favoured Hungarians; they led 2-0 after only eight minutes, with goals from Ferenc Puskas and Zoltan Czibor. It looked like it could be a repeat of their group stage demolition of the Germans.
However, West Germany persisted and Max Morlock reduced Hungary’s lead with a goal in the 10th minute. 2-1 Hungary after only 10 minutes. Helmut Rahn later equalized with a header in the 18th minute. The score was 2-2 until half-time and for the majority of the second half, too. With six minutes left, Schäfer dispossessed Bozsik and played a high cross into the penalty box. Rahn picked up Lantos’ short clearance, feinted a pass to centre forward Ottmar Walter that wrong-footed the Hungarian defenders, moved into the penalty box, and drove the ball hard and low past Grosics for the third German goal. Officials ruled Puskas’s goal three minutes later offside. In what came to be known as the miracle of Bern, West Germany defeated Hungary 3-2.
Hungary failed to even come close to this success at the 1958 World Cup. A tournament where they were eliminated in the group stage after drawing 1-1 with Wales and losing 2-1 to Sweden. Now we have highlighted the “rise and fall of Hungary”, but not the “rise and fall and rise and fall”. Hungary’s results improved slightly at the 1962 World Cup, where they managed to reach the quarter-finals only to succumb to a Czechoslovak goal.
Hungary’s Final Rise at UEFA Euro 1964
Their first truly impressive performance since their 1954 final appearance was the final of the 1964 European Championship. Although it was a four-team tournament, that didn’t take away from the prestige of participating in it. Keep in mind Hungary defeated Wales, East Germany, and France to qualify.
Incredible as it may seem, Hungary’s first match of the tournament was a semi-final – against hosts Spain. It was an end to end game that was ultimately decided by a goal in the 112th minute by Spain’s Amanzio Amaro. Hungarian hearts were broken, but their third-place play-off fixture against Denmark redeemed them. 3-1 Hungary, also after extra-time.
From Riches to Rags, The Rise and Fall of Hungary
Hungary also went on to reach the quarter-finals of the 1966 World Cup and finishing fourth at UEFA Euro 1972, but since then they have done nothing noteworthy on an international level. They haven’t played in a World Cup since 1986 and broke a 44-year European Championship drought after qualifying for the 2016 edition.
This proves how low Hungary’s national team has fallen – from huge favourites in a World Cup final to underdogs at the Euros.