Which national football teams are the “strongest” today? The nations with the most trophies won at major international competitions show a pretty clear picture: Spain, England, and Italy have the strongest clubs in Europe (by trophies won in the Champions League), and Brazil, Germany, and Italy are the strongest in the world (by FIFA World Cup trophies). Ask the fans, look up the football news, browse through any of the top ten football podcasts, they will confirm that this is the case – even through the lens of loyalty to their own national teams. But go back a few decades, and you’ll find that the situation was very different. At one time, the performance – and fame – of the Premier League used to pale in comparison to that of the Italian football league, Serie A, and there were quite a few major teams on the scene that you barely ever hear about today, producing legendary players and writing their names into the annals of football with amazing performances.
The Golden Team – Hungary
The Golden Team – also the Mighty Magyars, the Magnificent Magyars, the Magical Magyars, and many other names using the same alliteration – was the name given to the Hungarian national team representing the country in the 1950s. The team has recorded 42 victories and 7 draws between 1950 and 1956, with just one defeat against the West German national team in the 1954 FIFA World Cup final. The Golden Team was the perfect storm in football, a combination of player talent and innovative tactics used in the field. It is considered one of the most successful national football teams ever.
Between 1950 and 1956, the team beat opponents like Italy, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Uruguay, even West Germany in the 1954 World Cup group stage. They will always be remembered for absolutely humiliating the England national team in the 1953 “Match of the Century” (6-3, the first time England was beaten on home soil, in front of more than 100,000 fans at the Wembley Stadium) and in the rematch (7-1).
The winning streak of the Mighty Magyars was ended by a bloody revolution that erupted in 1956 – the players were stuck outside of their country, and they ultimately ended up playing for various European clubs.
Steaua București – Romania
Steaua București is (was) the most successful Romanian football team in the country’s history. And in 1986, it was also one of the best teams in Europe. The team, belonging to the Romanian Army at the time, won the European Super Cup and the European Cup in that year, and the latter victory went down in history.
The 1986 European Cup Final, held in Seville in May 1986, saw Steaua Bucuresti face Barcelona. The match was goalless even after 30 minutes of overtime, so the winner had to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. And this is when the miracle happened: Helmuth Duckadam, the Romanian goalkeeper saved all of Barca’s four spot-kicks, while two Romanian players, Lăcătuș and Balint, were able to make theirs count. For his performance, Duckadam earned the nickname “The Hero of Seville” – unfortunately, he couldn’t enjoy it for a long time, being forced to retire soon after the match. A few years later, as the Romanian revolution ended the country’s communist oppression, many members of the squad left Romania to play at major European teams.