Hungary- The pioneers of ‘Total Football’

When the greatest FIFA World Cup sides are enlisted, a few make the cusp as absolute favorites. Among them are the German side of the 1970’s, Brazilian side of late 1950’s, Dutch side of early 1970’s and Spanish side of the new millennium. These teams are undoubtedly in the league of their own and arguably comprise of the best footballers that ever lived. Amongst them is a side that was unbeaten in the international circuit for half a decade. A Nation that doesn’t exist in the league of good teams today, but is arguably one of the best sides that ever graced the beautiful game of football- Hungary of the 1950’s.

Gusztav Sebes-

Gustav Sebes

Gustav Sebes managed the great Hungarian side

The Hungarian head coach was more than just a manager; he was an innovator who read the game exceptionally well. In the late 1940’s, Hungarian football pundits advocated the attacking 4-2-4 formation that was best suited for stretching the opposition defense. But, Sebes wanted to eliminate the weakness of being vulnerable on the counter. He starting developing players in a way that every player in the team can play at any position on the pitch.

He found his perfect formation during the 1952 Helsinki Olympics where the Hungarian national side won the Gold medal. He either used a 2-3-3-2 or a 3-2-2-3 formation to get the best out of his philosophy. ‘Total Football’ had arrived on the international stage and many teams feared this brand of football.

The 2-3-3-2 formation-

Having developed versatile players among his ranks, Sebes employed the unconventional 2-3-3-2 formation to utilize his team’s strengths to the optimum. For 5 years leading up to the 1954 FIFA World Cup, Hungary were not only unbeaten but also unchallenged. They outclassed every opponent without breaking a sweat for half a decade.

The formation itself didn’t have any concrete shape so there was no way that opponents could study the Hungarian game and counter using their strengths. Using a withdrawn ‘deep lying’ striker enabled an extra man to Sebes’s side. A player in defense might end up playing centre forward in course of the game- such was the movement of all the players. It was impossible to mark a player and only an 11 man wall could stop the ball from getting into the net.

Memorable matches-

Hungary was invited play a friendly against an English side that hadn’t been beaten at the Wembley by any side apart from British Isle teams. Hungary demolished the hosts 6-3 and the match was named as ‘The match of the century’ by British press. Seeking revenge, England requested a rematch at Budapest. This time the conclusion was even worse, a 7-1 mauling of the English side sent waves across the footballing world that Hungary had arrived to take the international crown.

1954 FIFA World Cup arrived and Hungary were the clear favorites. West Germany were also tipped to win the price as Hungary had meager experience of playing at this stage unlike the other favorites. But, Hungary blew all the smoke over its reputation by demolishing West Germany 8-3 in the group stages. Enroute to the final, Hungary beat South Korea and West Germany in the group stages, Brazil and Uruguay in the quarters and semi final respectively.

The final was against West Germany. Hungary lost 2-3 after scoring two goals in the opening 10 minutes. The Germans fought back well and a few decisions that went in the winners’ favor contributed largely towards Hungary’s defeat. A goal by captain Ferenc Puskas in the 89th minute was disallowed for off-side, though replays showed otherwise. This match was later called ‘The miracle of Bern’.

Hungary total football

The Hungary side who transformed football

The team, the impact-

The outright attacking prowess of strikers Ferenc Puskas and Sándor Kocsis, withdrawn striking option in Nándor Hidegkuti and finally the versatile genius of Zoltán CziborJózsef Bozsik and Gyula Grosics who would be found on all areas of the pitch, made up the golden generation of Hungary football. This philosophy was later employed by the Dutch side of early 1970’s. Barcelona under Pep Guardiola were a brainchild of this system. Many coaches in the world believe that ‘Total Football’ is the right way to play the game. Hungary were the pioneer of this style of play and will always be praised for gifting such a wonderful idea to play football.


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