Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Usually the year after a major tournament is anti-climactic. The success of the World Cup 1970 finals made 1971 bleak – nothing exciting in the universe of the national teams. In Europe – qualifications for the European Championship. It was still the original format: round robin groups at first and direct elimination, a standard cup format, after that. Romania, Hungary, England, USSR, Belgium, Italy, Yugoslavia, and West Germany qualified for the quarter-finals. Hardly any surprise. Nothing new either – Hungary and Yugoslavia made up for missing the World Cup; Spain missed the boat again, Portugal was in decline; Holland was still an outsider. Without international TV coverage, the qualification groups were largely domestic affairs. Without major TV coverage, the qualification rounds were well attended. Perhaps the last time football was ‘romantic’ – exciting for home team fans, who had a rare chance to see foreign stars live. The thrill of not really knowing how strong or weak a foreign team was.

A moment from Bulgaria – Hungary. Theirs was the only relatively unpredictable group – between them and France, it was difficult to be sure which team will go ahead. None was really great team… they were simply at relative parity.

Hungary – Bulgaria 2-0 in Budapest. Penev, captaining Bulgaria, was well established, but his opponent Laszlo Fazekas was new player. He was to be long lasting star of Hungary.

Hungarians at training – Szucz, Nosko, and Peter Juhasz. Training methods of most teams were old – this is typical routine existing from the 1920s, if not from even earlier years. New training methods were not yet developed, known, or trusted.

Miklos Pancsics – key defender of Hungary. May be then… the name speaks nothing today.

Hungary performed well – they finished 4th at 1972 European Championship. But… this is not a team recognized and remembered. Fazekas is largely related to the late 70s and early 1980s. Pancsics, Szucz, and Peter Juhasz are omitted entirely from lists of great Hungarian players. Nosko, despite his high jumps above, did not even make the squad for the final tournament. This is the last top performance of Hungary, but instead of being the next ‘great’ generation, it is considered mediocre one. True… Hungary was at the beginning of its long decline. Yet, in real time, this team was not that bad.