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    Build-up to Budapest | When Puskas faced Roma for the first time

    The countdown to one of the biggest games in Roma history is on and ahead of the Europa League final on 31 May, we take a look at the player whom the host stadium is named after: the legendary Ferenc Puskas.

    A Roma delegation which included future club president Franco Sensi met Ferenc Puskas and Honved at Roma Termini railway station on the night of 10-11 December 1956.

    The Hungarian superstar had previously played in Rome when the Stadio Olimpico was inaugurated but on 12 December 1956 played against Roma for the first time. It would be one of the last matches of the Hungarian super team that formed the backbone of the Aranycsapat (Golden Team) – the Hungary side that won the Olympics in 1952 and were World Cup finalists in 1954.  

    Giacomo Losi e Giosuè Stucchi posano per una foto ricordo con Ferenc Puskas, in occasione del ricevimento organizzato nella sede sociale giallorossa alla vigilia dell'amichevole tra le due squadre, Roma, Viale Tiziano, martedì 11 dicembre 1956.
    Giacomo Losi and Giosue Stucchi pose for a photo with Ferenc Puskas during the reception held at Roma headquarters ahead of Roma v Honved, Viale Tiziano, Tuesday 11 December 1956 (AS Roma Archive / Salustri)

    The match at the Olimpico was taking place between the two legs of Honved’s European Cup tie with Athletic Bilbao. With the return leg being held in Brussels instead of Budapest, Puskas and co. opted not to return home to a country in the throes of a revolution and instead arranged a series of friendlies around the world, before some of the bigger names then found homes at other European clubs.

    The Roma side of the 1956-57 season was coached by another famous Hungarian, Gyorgy Sarosi. During the reception at club headquarters in Viale Tiziano the day before the game, Sarosi became emotional when vice-president Sandro Campilli handed him the pennant that he had himself given to Fulvio Bernardini when Roma had hosted Ferencvaros at Campo Testaccio on 16 June 1935.

    The match garnered a lot of interest in the capital, with fans hoping to see the likes of Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Zoltan Czibor. The latter would then sign a contract with Roma but never played in a competitive match for the Giallorossi because FIFA imposed a ban on all the players who didn’t return to Hungary. Bela Guttmann was there too, as the club’s technical director and interpreter at the press conference to present the match.

    Il presidente della FIGC Ottorino Barassi stringe la mano a Ferenc Puskas in occasione di Roma-Honved 3-2, amichevole della stagione 1956/1957, Roma, Stadio Olimpico, mercoledì 12 dicembre 1956. Osservano la scena, a destra, il capitano romanista Arcadio Venturi e i giallorossi Luigi Giuliano e Giacomo Losi.
    FIGC president Ottorino Barassi shakes hands with Puskas at Roma 3-2 Honved. Watching on, to the right, are Roma captain Arcadio Venturi and players Luigi Giuliano and Giacomo Losi (AS Roma Archive / Dufoto)

    The Roma players were also for the match. Arcadio Venturi, the captain, shook hands with Ferenc Puskas at club headquarters and did so again the following day at 2:45 before kick-off.

    I capitani Arcadio Venturi e Ferenc Puskas guidano sul terreno di gioco le squadre di Roma e Honved prima del calcio d'inizio dell'amichevole
    Captains Arcadio Venturi and Ferenc Puskas lead their respective teams out onto the pitch before the friendly match (AS Roma / Arcadio Venturi Collection)

    "We played a team that represented everything football was about," Giacomo Losi later wrote in his autobiography. "There was an incredible atmosphere at the Olimpico. The fans were a big help in what will go down in history as one of our greatest pages. Even though it was a friendly, we managed to beat the Honved dream team 3-2.”

    The match began with the Hungarian players giving the flowers they had received from Roma players to the crowd. In the 10th minute the match was halted to commemorate the people who had lost their lives in Hungarian Revolution.

    Roma took the lead through Gunnar Nordahl but just two minutes later Puskas equalised from the spot after being brought down by Luigi Giuliano.

    Luciano Panetti si arrende al calcio di rigore trasformato da Ferenc Puskas per il primo dei due gol degli ospiti
    Luciano Panetti is unable to keep out Ferenc Puskas’s penalty, the first of the visitors’ goals (AS Roma Archive / Salustri)

    In the 35th minute Nordahl was again the protagonist, finding the run of Alcides Ghiggia who cleverly lobbed the goalkeeper. After the break the Hungarians dominated play for 20 minutes yet were unable to convert their positive performance into a goal. They were made to pay for this in the 70th minute when Arcadio Venturi and Paolo Pestrin combined well to find Ghiggia, whose improvised effort made it 3-1. Honved continued to pour forward, and Zoltan Czibor clawed the scoreline back to 3-2. Yet Luciano Panetti proved to be the hero, denying the Hungarians an equaliser, and Roma held on to win, leaving the field to rapturous applause.

    "We deserved a draw," declared Puskas at the end of the game. "We offered more in attack and had a lot of goalscoring chances. I admire the resolve shown by Roma's defenders. As for individuals, I think Ghiggia and Da Costa are their best players."

    Ferenc Puskas would once again face Roma on 30 August 1962, this time representing Real Madrid and partnering the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano. Unlike on the other occasion his side were able to find an equaliser to make it 3-3, with the strikes coming from Antonio Angelillo and Francisco Lojacono for Roma and a brace from Amancio for Real, and two own goals apiece.

    In this match he also faced former coach Luis Carniglia on the Roma bench, who in 1959 would be sacked by Real Madrid prior to the European Cup final for leaving out Puskas. In 1961 Luis Carniglia went on to win the Fairs Cup for Roma.

    Fast-forward to 2023 and Roma are seeking out another European triumph in the stadium bearing the name of Ferenc Puskas.