Hungarian dominance was a recurring theme of early FIFA World Cups™, though the central Europeans were twice defeated finalists, falling to Italy in 1938, and then to Germany in the 1954 Final when they were considered odds-on certainties to lift the trophy. The team built around football legend Ferenc Puskas led 2-0 in that match, but they ended up 3-2 losers in a game the Germans subsequently christened 'The Miracle of Berne.'
The grandsons of that truly great side have struggled to emulate the pedigree of those long-lost days. Hungary only missed out on a place at France 1998 at the final hurdle, qualifying for the play-offs after finishing second in their group but collapsing to heavy defeats (7-1 and 5-0) by Yugoslavia.
Despite an honourable run in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying, coach Imre Gellei was replaced by former Germany captain Lothar Matthaus, but even with the 1990 FIFA World Cup winner at the helm the Hungarians were unable to realise the dream of returning to football's greatest stage. Drawn in a tough qualifying group, Matthaus' side finished fourth behind Croatia, Sweden and Bulgaria.
Peter Varhidi searched for winning solutions in EURO 2008 qualifying, but his efforts were in vain as the Hungarians were absent when the giants of European football went head-to-head in Austria and Switzerland. Hungary ended as also-rans in a group including Greece, Norway, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Hungary's next attempt to recapture past glories comes in the forthcoming South Africa 2010 qualifying campaign, the latest opportunity to build on a truly glorious legacy from yesteryear. With Varhidi having paid the price for EURO failure, the man charged with taking them to South Africa is former Feyenoord coach Erwin Koeman, who was appointed to the post on 24 April.