After Saudi Arabia’s capitulation against hosts Russia in Thursday’s opening match of this summer’s FIFA World Cup, it’s hard to believe there was ever a more abysmal World Cup team – except maybe another Saudi side, which lost 8-0 to Germany in 2002. However, the Saudis will have to be surpass themselves in their remaining group matches to rival El Salvador’s Class of 1982.
Admittedly, the Salvadorians could be forgiven for not being entirely focused on their football in Spain. Back home, their compatriots were embroiled in a bloody civil war which would continue for another ten years.
Things looked bad enough for the Central Americans at half time of their opening match against Hungary, with the Magyars leading 3-0. Yet few would have expected the festival of clinical finishing and terrible defending which followed, including a hat-trick in the space of seven minutes from substitute László Kiss. El Salvador’s goal – which came when they were already 5-0 down – was the scantest of scant consolations, as the Hungarians won 10-1.
Despite their feeble opposition, Hungary’s ruthless display evoked comparisons with the ‘Magical Magyars’ of 1954 – who, along with the Netherlands in 1974 and Brazil in 1982, are arguably one of the greatest sides who didn’t win the World Cup. When Hungary lost 3-2 to West Germany in the 1954 final, it was a huge upset. How the balance of footballing power has shifted since then.
In truth, the Hungarians of 1982 were no more than a pale shadow of the likes of Ferenc Puskás and Zoltán Czibor, who twice humiliated England in the 1950s. Yet the current side had won England’s qualifying group – despite losing twice to the Three Lions – so they would have travelled to Spain in a cautiously optimistic mood. Of course, that optimism would have been greatly increased by the manner and margin of their victory in their opening match in Elche.
Sadly, the less-than-magical Magyars came crashing down to earth in their next match against holders Argentina – a certain Diego Maradona scored twice as La Albiceleste cruised to a 4-1 victory. Needing a win in their final game against a strong Belgium side to stand any realistic chance of progressing, Hungary could only draw 1-1. It was a creditable result against the 1980 European Championship runners-up, but their brief World Cup adventure was over.
At least things got marginally better for the Salvadorians, though they still finished the tournament with just one goal and no points from three matches. They only lost 1-0 against Belgium and 2-0 against Argentina.
In one of his less politically correct pronouncements, former Wales goalkeeper Neville Southall – who never played in a World Cup – bemoaned what he considered the unfairness of the World Cup qualifying system. He said you could beat a few pub teams and end up in the World Cup finals in some parts of the world.
Well, if El Salvador’s display against Hungary is anything to go by, you can at least sympathise with the former Everton man.