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By ESPN Staff

Hungary mourns legend at Puskas funeral

BUDAPEST, Dec 9 (Reuters) - Hungary on Saturday mourned Ferenc Puskas, the greatest soccer player of his generation and talisman of the 1950s 'Golden Team', who died last month aged 79.

The Hungarian flag was lowered to half mast in front of parliament at a ceremony attended by the leaders of Hungary's government, judiciary and military.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the afternoon event in the national stadium, named after the player who scored 83 goals in 84 internationals and attracted adoring fans at home and later with Real Madrid.

Puskas's body will then be carried to Szent Istvan cathedral. The procession will stop on the way for a military ceremony in honour of the posthumous brigadier-general of the Hungarian army.

'The best-known Hungarian of the 20th century' as Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany called him, Puskas was a major in the army, to which his Hungarian club Honved belonged, before being made colonel in 1995 and promoted again after his death.

Puskas captained Hungary in the 1950s, leading them to within a disallowed goal of a World Cup trophy in 1954 against West Germany.

He was admitted to hospital in late 2000 with arteriosclerosis and was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He died on Nov. 17.

Born Ferenc Purczeld in April 1927, he was known as 'Little Brother' in Hungary, 'The Galloping Major' in England and the 'Booming Cannon' by Real Madrid fans.

'With the death of Ocsi (Little Brother) the earth has lost a star -- but the star will keep shining in the sky, even in a thousand years' time,' former international team mate Jeno Buzanszky told Saturday's issue of daily Nemzeti Sport.

He played in two mof the most famous games in history -- Hungary's stunning 6-3 victory over England at Wembley in 1953 and Real Madrid's 7-3 demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final.

Puskas won Olympic gold with Hungary in 1952, league titles with his Hungarian club Honved and with Real Madrid, with whom he also won three European Cups.

In contrast to more recent Hungarian national teams, which have not qualified for a major championship since 1986, the 'Magical Magyars' led by Puskas lost just one match -- the 1954 World Cup final -- in six years.

Puskas defected to the west following the Soviet crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and signed for the Real Madrid side led by Alfredo Di Stefano.

It took his wife Erzsebet three attempts to cross into Austria to escape and during his exile, Hungary's sporting hero was vilified as a traitor by the communists who ruled the country.

He went into coaching after retiring in 1967, flitting between continents -- from Egypt to South America, from Saudi Arabia to Canada, Greece and Australia.

In 1971, he coached Greek side Panathinaikos to the European Cup final, losing out to Ajax Amsterdam.

He finally returned to Hungary in the early 1980s with Erzsebet.

His death was caused by cardiovascular and respiratory failure triggered by pneumonia.