Would a fully-fit Puskas have led Hungary to the title in 1954?

Would a fully-fit Puskas have led Hungary to the title in 1954?

Game of the People begins its build-up to the World Cup with a look at some of the teams that didn’t quite win the competition, despite their performance and billing.

It’s not always the best team in the world that wins the World Cup. But it is invariably the team that negotiates the “tournament” that comes out on top. But in 2010, Spain were definitely the outstanding team in a poor World Cup. Brazil 2014 promises to be a good competition, played in one of the genuine homes of football. The crowds and the atmosphere should help carry the World Cup to a happy conclusion. After some pretty sterile tournaments, it’s time that the World Cup delivered!

Down the years, some of the best teams have failed to lift the World Cup trophy. There’s nearly always a team that wins the hearts of the people, if not the gold medals on offer. Here’s some of the “alternative” champions:

1950 in Brazil: The host nation gets clumsy
Brazil were red hot favourites to win the 1950 competition as hosts. After easing through a group containing Mexico (4-0), Switzerland (2-2) and Yugoslavia (2-0), they reached the final round with Uruguay, Spain and Sweden. Ademir scored four as Brazil beat Sweden 7-1 in Rio, while Uruguay and Spain drew 2-2. Brazil hit another six past Spain (6-1) while Uruguay had to thank a late goal to beat the Swedes 3-2. The final group game – the only time the World Cup has been decided on a league basis –  saw Brazil face Uruguay in front of 200,000 people in the Maracana. Surely, it was a formality. Brazil were destined to be World Champions? There was a degree of over confidence about Brazil, though. A victory song had been written before the game: Brasil os vencedores and newspaper O Mundo, printing a picture of the Brazilian team, proclaimed “these are the world champions”, on the morning of the match. This was all the motivation the Uruguayans needed – skipper Obdulio Varela bought as many copies as he could find to distribute among his team-mates. As for the game, Brazil took the lead through Friaca in the 47th minute, but Uruguay levelled in the 66th minute through legendary striker Jose Schiaffino. Eleven minutes from time, Brazilian keeper Moacyr Barbosa was anticipating a cross from Alcides Ghiggia, but the Uruguay forward drilled the ball into the net instead. The huge crowd fell silent, there was an air of disbelief about the incident and the prospect of Brazil letting the World Cup slip from their grasp. It proved to be the winning goal and the defeat became known as “the Maracana blow”. It took years for Brazil to get over this loss, but it was a lesson to all over-confident favourites!

1954 in Switzerland: Pity poor Puskas
Hungary went to Switzerland as favourites for the World Cup. They had become known as the “Mighty Magyars” and Aranycsapat, the Golden Team, after winning the Olympic football tournament in 1952 and then beating England twice – 6-3 at Wembley and 7-1 in Budapest in 1953-54. The core of the team was six players: Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hudegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Jozsef Bozsik and Gyula Grosics. Between 1950 and 1956, Hungary played 42 games and lost just once. That game was the 1954 World Final in Berne, a 3-2 defeat at the hands of West Germany. The game became known in Germany as “The miracle of Berne”. Hungary had suggested all along that they would sweep everyone aside in Switzerland. They won their group games emphatically: 9-0 against South Korea and 8-3 against West Germany. In the quarter final, Hungary came up against Brazil and what followed was a brutal encounter that saw three men sent off. Puskas, Hungarian’s king-pin, missed the game through injury, but Hungary came through by 4-2. He also missed the exciting semi-final against Uruguay, which ended 4-2 in Hungary’s favour. So to the final and a semi-fit Puskas put his side ahead after six minutes, a lead that was doubled two minutes later. It looked as though it would be a repeat of the group game victory, but by the 18th minute, Germany were level, and with six minutes remaining, they scored the winner and became one of the most unlikely World Champions. Hungary would never go as close again. Politics made sure of that.

1966 in England: Portugal and Eusebio
Portugal qualified for England 1966 by winning a group that contained Czechoslovakia, Romania and Turkey. They won four of their six games and scored nine goals, seven of which were netted by the great Eusebio. In the finals, they formed part of one of the first “groups of death”, alongside reigning champions Brazil, a resurgent Hungary and Bulgaria. They were not fancied to get out of the group, but Eusebio and his team-mates put on some very dynamic performances at Old Trafford and Goodison Park. Their squad was built around Portugal’s two dominant sides at the time, Benfica (seven players) and Sporting Lisbon (eight). In their first game, they beat a Hungarian side that featured Ferenc Bene and Florian Albert by 3-1. Eusebio was not on the scoresheet that day but he was in Portugal’s 3-0 win against Bulgaria. With Brazil struggling, largely thanks to the bad treatment dished out to Pele, the final group game saw Eusebio score twice as Portugal beat the champions 3-1. Suddenly, everyone was talking about the Portuguese as potential winners of the 1966 competition. The quarter-final almost put paid to that, however, as North Korea went into a three goal lead at Everton inside 25 minutes. But then Eusebio sprung into action and at half-time, Portugal were only a goal behind. Two quick strikes in the second half, taking Eusebio’s total to four in the game, saw Portugal lead 4-3 and late in the game, Torres scored the fifth. It was a stunning individual performance. The semi-final saw England meet Portugal, arguably one of the best in the finals. England won 2-1, but Portugal had made them sweat all the way. Eusebio ended as the 1966 top scorer with nine goals in the finals.

"It should have been me..."

“It should have been me…”

1974 in Germany: Holland’s heartache
It was the age of “Total Football”, with Ajax champions of Europe between 1971-1973 and the Dutch national team playing a progressive brand of football that was much admired and aped across the continent. Ajax had lost their crown in 1973-74 season and the masterminds of their success were gradually moving away from Holland. Johann Cruyff was now in Barcelona, his foil, Johann Neeskens, would soon follow. Munich 1974 was meant to be their crowning glory. It certainly looked that way as the World Cup finals got underway. They had little trouble in winning their group in the first stage, the games characterised by the mass ranks of orange-clad fans and the ubiquitous klaxons. It was the summer of the “Cruyff turn”. In the second stage, Holland made light work of Argentina (4-0), East Germany (2-0) and Brazil (2-0). They were to meet hosts West Germany, who had started slowly, conveniently lost to their Eastern cousins, in order to avoid Holland, it was said – and had built up momentum in the second stage. Holland were favourites, however, and may just have been too confident of their status.
They took an early lead through a Neeskens penalty, without a single German touching the ball. Some say the Dutch started to “showboat” and tried to show their hosts just who was boss. It backfired, because it was not long before Paul Breitner had equalised and before half-time, Gerd Muller put them ahead. Holland had plenty of possession and a catalogue of chances, but failed to take advantage. They were devastated. “We forgot we still had to win,” said Cruyff of the biggest tragedy to hit Dutch football. The team was very much of its time. Their long hair, their pseudo-hippy clothing, their free and easy style. Ajax, Holland, Cruyff – it was a special time and for anyone who witnessed that wonderful genre of football still has an ache that those orange shirts were never rewarded for their invention and class!

1982 in Spain: Socrates’ lament
Ever since Brazil’s 1970 World Cup win, the universe had been crying out for successors to that fine side and that marvellous tournament. It has been an anvil round the neck of Brazilian football, largely because the game has moved on since Seleção Brasileira resembled beach footballers who could balance the ball on any part of their bodies. Moreover, Brazilian football has, to some extent, been Europeanised by technocrats. But in 1982, they looked something like the identikit Brazilian team, with outstanding talent, flowing football, great goals, stunning free-kicks and the samba beat to match.  For once, Brazil had confidence in their team – in 1974 and 1978, they had been a pale shadow of the great 1970 combination. Zico, who was tipped to be a star in 1978 but failed to deliver, was now a mature and accomplished star. Other players, like Socrates, Junior, Cerezo, Falcao, Eder, Oscar and Leandro were all outstanding individuals. There was a weakness up front, but their midfield more than compensated. They netted 10 goals in three group games, beating the USSR (2-1), Scotland (4-1) and New Zealand (4-0). The second stage group was tougher, but they beat Argentina 3-1 before lining up against Italy, who had made heavy work of the first stage, drawing all three games. What unfolded was the game of Spain 1982 – Italy winning 3-2, despite excellent goals by Socrates and Falcao. Paulo Rossi, the returning golden boy who had been banned for two years, scored a hat-trick for the Italian, who went on to win the competition.

These five sides arguably represent the best to have never won the World Cup. But there are others who deserve mention in the other competitions: 1934 – Austria; 1958 – France; 1970 – West Germany; 1982 – France; 1986 – Denmark; 1998 – Croatia; 2006 – Germany.

Watch closely in 2014. Brazil will obviously command the attention, but both Argentina and Uruguay are playing in their neighbourhood. It should make for an interesting summer.

Keep watching for more build-up articles on Rio 2014!