Thursday, August 2, 2012
Magical Magyars dominate Olympics
Originally scheduled for 1940 before the tournament was cancelled due to World War II, Finland staged the Olympics in Helsinki in 1952 and ensured that it would be a Games known for the breaking of a host of world records. But it would also go down as the most one-sided football tournament in the history of the competition thanks to Hungary's 'Magical Magyars', who beat Yugoslavia on August 2 to begin a glorious period in the country's history.
From Czechoslovakian long-distance runner Emil Zatopek's feat of winning the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon at the same Olympics to American Bob Mathis becoming the first man to win successive decathlon titles, Helsinki was full of success, yet no team were more dominant than Hungary's 'Magical Magyars'.
Entering the football tournament on the back of a two-year unbeaten run, the Hungarians had world-class players in the form of Ferenc Puskas, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis, Jozsef Bozsik and the deep-lying centre forward Nandor Hidegkuti, as well as a football philosophy that threatened to change the way the game was played around the globe.
The team had been forged out of one of the most restrictive Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe - an incredible feat given the devastating effect that World War II brought upon the country. The infrastructure of football in Hungary had been significantly damaged by the fighting, and only the final few months of the conflict offered any respite from the Allied bombing and the wrath of the Red Army.
The rise of football as a way to escape the depression of post-war Europe allowed Hungary to emerge. David Goldblatt in wrote in The Ball Is Round: "The Hungary of the 1950s were the inheritors of the great Hungarian football culture of the inter-war era. Hungary had, after all, lost the 1938 World Cup final, provided the coaching staff for much of the Serie A in the early 1930s, and in Ferencvaros and MTK possessed two of the best club sides in Europe."
Despite the fact that many of their wins ahead of the Olympics were against other sides behind the Iron Curtain and the feeling of scepticism throughout the Western football world as to their talents, there was little doubt that they would challenge for honours in Helsinki.
FIFA's official report on the Games reveals: "After barely getting past Romania in the first round, 2-1, the Hungarians moved into high gear. They blanked Italy in the second round, 3-0, rolled over Turkey in the quarter-finals, 7-1 (Kocsis and Puskas had two goals apiece), and shut down Sweden in the semi-finals, 6-0 (two more goals for Kocsis)."
The defining moment was the thrashing of Sweden, who many believed were one of the strongest teams at the tournament. An incident in the Hungarian dressing room at half-time had showcased their will to win.
A piece on the FIFA website about Sandor Kocsis reveals: "Zoltan Czibor sauntered into the dressing room, wholly satisfied by his first-half exhibition. Hungary led Sweden 3-0 in their Men's Olympic Football Tournament Helsinki 1952 semi-final. He had put the first-minute opener on a plate for Ferenc Puskas, witnessed the same player cannon a shot against the crossbar from his teasing centre, and then saw another of his crosses, which was en route to the infallible left boot of 'The Galloping Major', diverted into his own goal by Gosta Lindh.
"Congratulation was expected. Condemnation arrived. Directing it was a team-mate. 'He told me to stop crossing low for Puskas, that if I'd put more crosses in the air we'd have scored even more,' explained Czibor. 'Puskas was the greatest player in the world. I don't think anybody else would have dared take issue'. The protester nevertheless had a voice that commanded attention. Czibor took heed and began to alternate between low and high crosses. The critic duly vindicated his half-time outburst by scoring twice en route to a 6-0 victory."
Heading into the final with a commanding aggregate scoreline of 18-2 - only rivalled by the Uruguayan side of 1924 - Hungary were to meet Yugoslavia, a side who could empathise with the difficulties of running a football side out of the Communist East.
But they were no match for Hungary and the first missed penalty at an Olympics did not affect the result. As historian Cris Freddi wrote in a report of the game: "When Kocsis was tripped in the area, Hungary were awarded a penalty, which was naturally taken by their other immortal inside-forward, the captain Puskas. Arguably the greatest goalscorer of all time, he claimed he'd never missed a penalty - until his weak kick, which Yugoslavia's brilliant goalkeeper Vladimir Beara had time to catch, let alone save. Puskas was so crushed that he revealed: 'I was a complete passenger.'
"But with less than 20 minutes to go, he was rescued by Beara, who couldn't hold a cross from Czibor, allowing Puskas to take it round him and put Hungary ahead. Czibor himself made sure of the gold medal with two minutes left."
Puskas himself later described it as the start of Hungary's rise in Puskas on Puskas by Rogan Taylor and Klara Jamrich: "It was during that Olympics that our football first started to flow with real power. It was a prototype of total football: when we attacked everyone attacked; in defence it was just the same."
But a columnist from an English national daily was less impressed. "Once football was a robust game for strong men. Played this way it is a ballet, highly skilful, highly decorative, but rather tame," he wrote. He may well have changed his tune when Hungary ripped the English apart 6-3 at Wembley only a year later.
What happened next? Hungary's gold medal was the first in football by a Communist country and they rightly went into the 1954 World Cup as favourites for the title. Despite going 2-0 up, they lost 3-2 to West Germany in the final and the Hungarian revolution of 1956 proved to be the end of the road for the Golden Generation. However, Hungary proved their ability to rise from the ashes once more as they claimed Olympic titles in 1964 and 1968 to join Great Britain (1908 and 1912) and Uruguay (1924 and 1928) as the only back-to-back Olympic champions in history.