"We used to joke with our defenders, 'Don't worry if you let one in - we'll score two.' That's how we felt."
So said Nandor Hidegkuti of Hungary’s Magical Magyars, and his words reflected the philosophy of this exhilarating side. The goal captured in the above image helped inflict Uruguay’s first FIFA World Cup™ defeat, and was one of an astonishing 27 scored by Hidegkuti and Co at Switzerland 1954. That remains a record, as does the remarkable goals-per-game average of 5.4 they established at that tournament.
Hidegkuti himself was vital to such statistics, and to the team’s revolutionary style and formation. When the Magyars demolished England in historic back-to-back meetings ahead of the World Cup, it was the MTK Hungaria star – playing in an attacking midfield role – whom Don Revie described as having "tore our defence to shreds".
Switching Hidegkuti from his initial position on the right wing to this playmaking role, in which he first excelled in Hungary’s 1952 Olympic triumph, was a key moment in the team’s development. His skill, vision and positional intelligence brought out the best in the likes of Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, and Jozsef Bozsik, and this did not go unappreciated.
"He was a great player and a wonderful reader of the game," was Puskas’ tribute to Hidegkuti. “He was perfect for the role, sitting at the front of the midfield, making telling passes, dragging the opposition defence out of shape and making fantastic runs to score himself."
The goal pictured in this image came at the end of one such run, with Hidegkuti arriving unnoticed at the back post to score a brilliant diving header. It helped Hungary see off Uruguay 4-2 in a thrilling semi-final and extended their world-record unbeaten run to 30 matches.
Everyone, of course, knows what happened next. Those seemingly unstoppable Magyars, a team that hadn’t lost in over four years, were beaten 3-2 in the Final by West Germany – a team they had hammered 8-3 earlier in the tournament.
But while runners-up medals, and a place in the tournament all-star team for Hidegkuti, offered little consolation, that spectacular Hungary side left Switzerland having etched their names in football history.
Did you know?
The FIFA Football Museum’s 1954 showcase includes a ticket from one of the lucky 45,000 who witnessed Hidegkuti’s header and that thrilling semi-final.
— FIFA Museum (@FIFAMuseum) 2. März 2017