Tuesday, July 19, 2022

New Addition: World Cup Stories-Part One (Hungary at the 1986 World Cup) with an Interview with Hungarian Sports Journalist Mr. Gergely Marosi


Going into the 1986 World Cup, Hungary were touted as a possible dark horse candidate. Little did they know that this World Cup would be the reference point where Hungary would go down a spiral lasting decades with no qualification or any signs of progress.

Before we get to the nadir of the World Cup, let’s see what had led many to believe that Hungary might actually do well in this Mexican World Cup.

The Team had qualified in impressive fashion in a Group containing the Dutch and their Austrian neighbors. In fact, Hungary had mathematically qualified in April 1985, well one year before the World Cup, after winning its first five matches in the Group.

György Mezey had taken over in the Fall of 1983 and had slowly built a team led by veterans such as Tibor Nylasi and Imre Garaba.

Brothers Peter Disztl (goalkeeper) and Laszlo Disztl were also up and coming players crucial in Videoton’s surprising run to the UEFA Cup Final in 1985.

Marton Esterhazy and Jozsef Kiprich had established themselves upfront, however, all the talk was of the new star that had been unearthed at Honved. Lajos Detari was being billed as the next great global star and many were predicting for him to shine at the World Cup.

Photo From: Labdarugas_1985_01

(Lajos Detari and Antal Roth)

The progress of the team may have had to with Mezzey’s training style. It was reported that he carried out many tests to ascertain the physical and mental limits of his players. He wanted to improve the players’ performances by encouragement, in addition to determining why they were often injured.  He also favored a head-on attacking style of play and let defenders know that they would not be substituted.

His substitutions limited to the forward positions which allowed mobility. (Source World Soccer, April 1986)


Photo From: Labdarugas_1985_02

(György Mezey)

Important friendly victories along the way had also increased Hungary’s profile. This included an away win vs. West Germany in January 1985 but most importantly the demolition of Brazil (3-0) just couple of months before World Cup.

The victory vs. Tele Santana’s Brazil made headlines at the time and gave credence to Hungary’s credentials.

A three-match tour of Qatar in the beginning of the year was organized to replicate the conditions to be faced in Mexico.


At the World Cup, Hungary were grouped with defending European Champions France, the Soviet Union and Canada.

Hungary started its World Cup on June 2nd at Irapuato vs. the Soviet Union. In the end what looked like an entertaining contest between two good sides ended in a massacre. The Soviets were up (2-0) within the first four minutes and Hungary’s World Cup was more or less over at that point, So shell-shocked were the Hungarians that Hungarian defender Antal Roth was replaced by Gyozo Burcsa in as early as the 13th minute. Things got only worse from then on and in the end, Hungary were defeated (0-6). What should have been Detari’s introduction to the world installed became the initiation of Valeri Lobanovsky’s Dinamo Kiev inspired Soviet side of Belanov and Zavarov.

For their next match on June 6th, the Hungarians did the minimum and defeated Canada, the weakest team in the Group, (2-0) as was expected of them.

Their final match was on June 9th against a French side that had been improving from its first match but the die was already cast and there was no contest as France easily disposed of Hungary (3-0).


Photo From: Labdarugas_1984_11

(József Kiprich)

Hungary were out and questions had to be asked why such an impressive team prior to the Tournament did so poorly. Perhaps Hungary’s troubles started with Nylasi’s injury that forced him to withdraw from the World Cup. His experience (1978 and 1982 World Cups) would have been invaluable to the team.

Perhaps the team had peaked too soon, maybe had the World Cup occurred a year earlier they would have done better.

More importantly, why did this World Cup act as a catalyst for Hungary to stagnate for decades. More precisely, perhaps instead of referencing the Tournament, we can merely reference the match vs. The Soviet Union as the instant.

Photo From: Onze, Hors serie 26, 1986

(Márton Esterházy)

Lajos Detari had a fine career and played for the likes of Eintracht Frankfurt, Olympiakos and Bologna. However, he somehow never achieved his pre-Tournament billing.

As can be expected Hungary would change managers multiple times in the following years and there would be match-fixing scandals in the coming years.

The Fall of the Iron Curtain would have no beneficial effect as the once reliable Hungary became an also ran.

Photo From: Labdarugas_1985_06 


Questions and Analysis: 

The Interviewee is:

Hungarian Sports Journalist Mr. Gergely Marosi

Mr. Marosi’s contact info:

On Twitter: @emgergo

Website: https://marosigergely.contently.com/


Soccernostalgia Question:  How do you view Hungary’s impressive World Cup qualification against adequate sides like Austria and the Netherlands?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: It was much better than expected, especially the away win in the Netherlands surprised the fans and media alike. The team previously was in a rather bad state, NT manager Kálmán Mészöly resigned and his assistant coach, György Mezey became NT manager in 1983. Mezey was young, hadn't had an extremely strong coaching reputation and the NT were not flying high - a month before the qualification started, they were beaten at home 2-0 by Mexico. They were even trailing Austria 0-1 at home in the first qualifier, but then a great second half completely turned around Hungary's luck. From then, the team was on a roll, and the 3-0 win in Vienna in 1985 is considered one of the best away days in the history of the NT with insane Hungarian support travelling to the Austrian capital.

Photo From: Labdarugas_1985_06

(April 17, 1985, World Cup Qualifier, Austria 0-Hungary 3)

Soccernostalgia Question:  What were the expectations in the Hungarian Press ahead of this World Cup? Was there much hype after the Brazil win?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: There was massive hype, especially after the 3-0 friendly win against Brazil. I remember a fan banner saying "Mexikóba is megyünk - világbajnokok leszünk?!" ("We're going to Mexico - will we win the World Cup, too?!"). The team was on a high. Everybody was largely optimistic. There was complete trust in Mezey and his players and a lot of people thought Hungary could be a surprise package in Mexico. Most would've said the NT should reach the last 16 at the very worst case. Probably the massive hype made the comedown all the more bitter later on! And some of the hype was, quite simply, irrational.

Photo From: Labdarugas_1986_04

(March 16, 1986, Hungary 3-Brazil 0)

Soccernostalgia Question:  There was much hype about Detari ahead of the World Cup, do you think he lived up to his reputation in the aftermath?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: Détári's career is quite a mystery. On one hand, he made it to the World XI, won a German Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt and played in Serie A when it was by far the best league in the world. On the other, there is a huge "could've been" over his career, and a general feeling that he could have reached more with better career choices. He never became a true football great, but he's definitely one of the greatest Hungary produced in the last 40 years.


Soccernostalgia Question:  Do you feel the loss of Captain Tibor Nyilasi made a significant difference?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: It's really difficult to gauge this from now. And I was too little back in 1986 to feel the reaction. Let's put it this way: Nyilasi was one of the biggest fan favourites, one of the most experienced players, a leader on and off the pitch, so his omission certainly came as a shock. On the other hand, he had regular back problems and went under the knife early in 1986. So he was not at optimal fitness and preparation level, there were also problems with his contract at Austria Wien, but there is still no proper explanation on why he was not going. 


Photo From: Onze, Hors serie 26, 1986

(Tibor Nylasi)

Soccernostalgia Question:  What effect did the heat have on the players?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: All of them said afterwards that they completely lacked sharpness and energy. Lajos Détári writes in his autobiography: "We were pretty much just crawling around at trainings. We were asking each other: 'Can you run? Because I cannot. And you?' And the answer was: 'No, I cannot run.' (...) "When we played the Soviets and warmed up we felt fatigue coming over us in a wave. We could not run. It was as if our legs turned to lead. It was the most horrible feeling. It was not only one or two players being out of it, but all of us were without energy."


Soccernostalgia Question:  What errors do you think Mezey made?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: It's difficult to tell from 2022 and also, of course hindsight is 100%. But something seriously went wrong in the training camps and with preparation, for the team was knackered by the time they even started the World Cup. All of the players, as I mentioned, recalled total fatigue, lack of sharpness and energy. They might have been overtrained. Also, they were training in Mexico at the scheduled time of the match against the USSR, which was in midday, in scorching heat. Nobody else did this. Outside observers were totally baffled, because other teams only trained in the evenings, trying to conserve as much energy as possible. Also, the Hungarian tactic was based on chasing down the ball aggressively and press strongly - that is a thing that can totally backfire in the heat. Mezey himself says that his main regret is that we conceded twice very quickly against the USSR and at that point he should have instructed the team to limit damage and keep it a tight loss, instead of chasing the result. As there were only 24 teams, a win against Canada and two narrow defeats could have been good enough to go through. As far as I see it, the results came from a preparation gone totally wrong.


Soccernostalgia Question:  Who were presented as the scapegoats for the failure?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: Mezey's reputation never fully recovered. He's also a moody, "spiky" character, and in a way I felt he was thrown to the wolves. But he, as NT manager, was responsible for the decisions. He stayed in Hungarian football, won league titles, became NT manager once more for a short time, was leading instructor for the UEFA coaching badge and had a big influence, but his reputation never reached pre-Mexico level again. Also, as a young and hyped coach, who spoke English well, he could've had an international career - but he ended up in Kuwait and Finland instead, and never made it to any big league.


Soccernostalgia Question:  After all these decades, has there been a consensus as to why Hungary imploded at the World Cup, most specifically against the Soviets?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: No. But there have been all kinds of conspiracy theories! I think, as the dust cleared, the main reasons for implosion were problems with preparation and fitness of players and also, the Nyilasi case might have influenced the squad negatively. But still, to this day, it's a kind of mystery.


Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, No 24 (596), June 11-June 17, 1986

(June 2, 1986, World Cup, USSR 6-Hungary 0)

Soccernostalgia Question:  How are the players in the World Cup team regarded in Hungary with 1986 in their legacy? Do you feel they may have had even better careers without this debacle?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: I think most of them are regarded as fine players, especially Détári, Kiprich, Kálmán Kovács, and the Disztl brothers. Still, everyone who was in Mexico carried the shadow of Mexico afterwards. They were there at one of the most spectacular implosions in NT history. I definitely feel that with a better run in Mexico, some of them could have made it bigger, though we have to say that back in the communist era it was not easy to be allowed on a Western European career, so it was not only down to the players themselves.


Soccernostalgia Question:  How do a new Generation of Hungarians view this 1986 World Cup?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: I think Irapuato and Mexico are still a traumatic event. for those who were fans already back then .An event when many fans lost their faith for good in the national team. For us, younger fans, it symbolises huge hopes dying a spectacular death. A sudden knockout out of nowhere. "Having an Irapuato" can still refer to having a massive loss.


Soccernostalgia Question:  Why did Hungary struggle for decades after this event? Why this World Cup (more specifically the match vs. the Soviets) made such an impact to Hungary’s Football future?

Mr. Gergely Marosi response: That's the question many people wanted to answer, but seeked in vain. I believe the trouble was already brewing. The 1960s was the last really great era for Hungarian era, and since the 1950s it was a gradual slip down the slope. A lot of knowledge disappeared from the system (coaches and players left the country, especially after the 1956 revolution). Not qualifying to the 1970 and 1974 World Cups were already signs of crisis, despite occasional great results. 

There was definitely some problematic mentality in football, there were serious match-fixing scandals, morally Hungarian football was not at a good place. The building could've looked fine from the outside, but the floor and the building was rotting. Mexico and what came afterwards just put the spotlight on the rot. The fact that we lost 0-6 to the Soviets (a huge prestige match for us) just made it worse. Hungary had some good results leading up to Mexico (also on club level, with Videoton making it to the UEFA Cup final), but the catastrophic results there just eroded all kind of positivity and trust, and that probably really affected the following years.

I think it's telling that since then Hungary was unable to qualify for the World Cups. Our generation of fans grew up with not-qualifying. We were used to a terrible (sometimes a bit better, but usually terrible) NT, regular embarrassing results, and continuous negativity. The late 80s and early to mid 90s were quite a bad era for Hungarian football in general. We, as fans, kind of... lost hope, simply, in the next 30 years. Then it miraculously turned around in the Euro 2016 qualifiers, and you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief of fans that we finally made it to a big tournament. And the national team had been, without a doubt, a highlight lately. Maybe that helps to put Mexico behind us, but to leave it completely behind, we should qualify for the World Cup once again and come back with a good performance.


Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, No 12 (583), March 12-19, 1986

Photo From: Guerin Sportivo, No 12 (583), March 12-19, 1986

Photo From: Kepes Sport 1984

(Hungary squad)

Photo From: Kepes Sport 1984

(Hungary squad)

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