The Spain 1982 finals played host to the biggest win in the history of the world's greatest football tournament, with a goal being netted at a rate of one every five and a half minutes. In all 11 goals were scored that day, with ten of them going to a rampant Hungarian side. Such was the nature of the defeat that many fans of El Salvador still claim to be traumatized to this day, 25 years on from their 10-1 humbling.
In the intervening quarter of a century, football supporters in the Central American nation have often wondered just what went wrong. The sense of shock is still tangible after the finest generation of players in Salvadorian history, including the maverick genius of Jorge Mágico Gonzalez, were given a footballing lesson by a team six out of ten El Salvador fans expected to beat, according to a survey carried out at the time.
Many reasons have been put forward for such a spectacular reverse, including the fact that El Salvador were the last squad to arrive in Spain prior to the tournament. The players also knew next to nothing about the Hungary team, their pre-match analysis limited to video footage the day before the game. This contributed to an ill-conceived all-out attacking approach, adopted in order to try and overwhelm the Hungarian defence, but which played into the hands of opponents well-versed in the counter-attacking arts. To compound it all, 17-year-old goalkeeper Ricardo Guevara Mora was the competition's youngest shot-stopper and at that point none of the players in front of him played their football outside of Central America.
In the event, El Salvador paid a heavy price for their inexperience. A story from keeper Guevara Mora helps illustrate just how ill-prepared they were. "When we arrived, we saw that all the other teams had brought gifts for their opponents, shirts, flags and even a book relating the history of football in their country. As for us, we hadn't brought anything," says the man who shipped a record ten goals. "Then I spotted a pine tree and cut a piece of wood from it, into which I carved the words 'El Salvador'. And that's what we gave them."
Healing the wounds
Deep in the throes of a civil war that was devastating the country, the people of El Salvador had hoped that Spain 1982 would bring some much-needed respite. In its place, however, came further dejection - the unprecedented defeat against Hungary taking the shine off creditable performances in the 1-0 and 2-0 group losses against Belgium and reigning champions Argentina respectively.
Fast forward 25 years and one day to Saturday 16 June 2007, and the Salvadorian Football Association's plan to hold a friendly match, involving members of both Hungary and El Salvador's 1982 FIFA World Cup squads, finally came to fruition.
First on the agenda at the Estadio Cuscatlan in San Salvador was a tribute to both of the teams playing that day, widely considered to be the finest generation of players each country has produced in the last 25 years. Taking the field were a number of legendary local figures, determined to finally rid themselves of the taste of that historic 10-1 trouncing. Guevara Mora, El Mágico Gonzalez, Luis Pelé Zapata and Carlos Imacaza were all there, while stars of yesteryear of the calibre of Lazar Szentes, Andras Torocsik and Tibor Rab turned out for the once-Mighty Magyars.
There were rather more silver foxes on display than your typical FIFA World Cup clash, and several players were a few pounds over their fighting weights, but the level of skill and enthusiasm more than compensated for any lack of athleticism. Roared on by 6,000 delighted spectators, the teams went toe-to-toe for two highly entertaining 25-minute halves.
The Estadio Cuscatlan was filled with an air of relaxed enjoyment, the fans cheering both sets of players and urging the home team to ever greater efforts. Even at 2-0 down, Lazar Szentes having netted twice for the visitors, the local supporters' sense of humour remained intact, one supporter even shouting, "They only need eight more!"
Their pride suitably stung, the Salvadorians battled their way back into the game, with substitute Zapata playing a pivotal role. Having scored after coming off the bench in the original game in Alicante, Pelé went one better this time around, notching twice to level the match at 2-2.
Chances came and went for both sides but the scoreline refused to budge, the players leaving the field to a rousing standing ovation from the crowd after the final whistle. After such an emotional occasion, it is perhaps fitting to leave the final word to the mercurial Mágico Gonzalez. "It was wonderful to finally be able to make it up to our supporters. The draw meant a great deal to us, psychologically speaking. For us, that result felt like a victory."