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May 2, 2006

1954 - Mauled by the Magyars

Following humiliation at the 1950 World Cup and with their claim to being one of world football's top sides slipping away, England travelled to Austria - dubbed the best team in Europe - needing a morale-boosting win. It was time for Nat Lofthouse to introduce himself to the world.

With only 20 minutes gone in Vienna, this most archetypal of English centre-forwards gave his side the lead, but strikes from Austria's Huber and Robert Dienst and England's John 'Jackie' Sewell made the game all square at 2-2 with ten minutes left.

As the clock ticked away, Lofthouse set off on a 50-yard run through the Austrian defence. As the goalkeeper charged off his line he collided with Lofthouse, who managed to get his shot off and score before being knocked unconscious - earning him the nickname 'The Lion of Vienna'.

Lofthouse and England were brought back down to earth when Hungary travelled to Wembley and became the first overseas team to win at the famous stadium. The 1952 Olympic Champions were on a 20-game unbeaten run before their visit and - led by the legendary Ferenc Puskas - Hungary hammered England 6-3.

Sewell, Stan Mortensen, and Alf Ramsey scored for the home side, but Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti, who netted a hat-trick, outshone every other player. In the return match, Hungary romped to a 7-1 victory.

The 'Mighty Magyars' continued to inspire awe around Europe, and were favourites to win the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. Qualifiers England had been drawn in a group with Italy, Switzerland and Belgium.

Stanley Matthews, now 39, was in the England squad for the tournament along with Preston's Tom Finney, his rival for the right-wing slot. But manager Winterbottom's solution to the problem was to switch the more versatile Finney to the left wing.

In England's opening game against Belgium, a goal from Lofthouse and two from Manchester City's Ivor Broadis sent the match into extra time with the scores level at 3-3. Lofthouse netted his second in the 92nd minute to make it 4-3, but Portsmouth's Jimmy Dickinson scored an own goal to make the final score 4-4.

The tournament functioned in such a way that England only had one group game left, despite being drawn against three opponents. The two seeded teams in each group (England and Italy) would only have to play the two unseeded teams in their group (Belgium and Switzerland).

England took on Switzerland in Berne's Wankdorf Stadion, and a goal in each half from Jimmy Mullen and Wolves teammate Dennis Wilshaw ensured England topped Group D to advance to the knock-out stages of the World Cup for the first time.

Winterbottom's side faced a tough quarter-final against World Cup holders Uruguay, who got off to a perfect start in the St Jakob Stadion with a goal from Carlos Borges only two minutes in. Lofthouse levelled, only to see Obdulio Varela and Juan Alberto Schiaffino score either side of the break to make it 3-1.

Finney began a fightback with a goal 20 minutes from the end, but an error from England goalkeeper Gil Merrick proved costly as Javier Ambrois added another for Uruguay to make the final score 4-2.

A quarter-final place, although a vast improvement on the team's first showing in the Finals, was not good enough for the English public. They had seen the World Cup begin to grow in stature - and demanded their side won the crown they witnessed West Germany eventually claim in Switzerland.

INTRO | 1950 | 1954 | 1958 | 1962 | 1966 | 1970 | 1982 | 1986 | 1990 | 1998 | 2002

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