Stories

The story of Hungary's 10-0 rout of El Salvador in 1982

It's a score that should only happen in playgrounds, but behind El Salvador'™s World Cup record rout was a farcical tale of civil war, corruption, disorganisation and schoolboy defending.

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It is perhaps one of the best-known results in the history of football. On June 15, 1982, Hungary hammered El Salvador 10-1, setting a World Cup record that will stand forever.

The 23,000 people who attended Estadio de Nuevo Elche and paid 800 pesetas for a ticket -“ about £27 in today's money -“ could never have guessed that they were going to watch an historic game.

Behind that astounding result, however, lies the story of an El Salvador team whose World Cup campaign consisted of equal parts chaos and farce.

Their qualification was a miracle in itself, as civil war was tearing the country apart and wartime training wasn'™t easy, as some of the players recall: "œIf some of us arrived late, it was because we had to assist wounded people abandoned alongside the road," says defender Francisco Jovel.

Rumours suggest that some players favoured the military government and others sympathised with the guerrillas, but politics didn'™t matter in the dressing room.

A welcome escape

"œAll we know is that when we played the qualifiers, we made the killings from both factions cease," says another former player, Mauricio Alfaro. "œThe people united at least for a day. That was our greatest gift, the country was in deep suffering and we had the pressure of trying to reduce it."

One by one, the Salvadorian minnows defeated their Central American rivals to gain qualification to Spain. But the group in which they were drawn was a bit of wake-up call.

œAll we know is that when we played the qualifiers, we made the killings from both factions cease.œ The people united at least for a day. That was our greatest gift, the country was in deep suffering and we had the pressure of trying to reduce it.

- Mauricio Alfaro, El Salvador player

"Argentina were the defending champions, Belgium were recent European finalists and Hungary arrived with a goalscoring record in World Cups. We couldn'™t have had worse luck," says defender Carlos Recinos, now the owner of a shoe store. 

El Salvador were the last of the 24 finalist teams to get to Spain, arriving after an exhausting 72-hour journey just three days before their debut against the Hungarians.

"œOur itinerary seemed as though it was planned by the enemy," says defender Jaime Rodriguez.

"Eight days before playing the Hungarians, they made us play a friendly against Gremio, then we jumped on a plane to Guatemala, spent a night in the airport, flew to Costa Rica, then the Dominican Republic and finally got to Madrid. From there we took another plane to Alicante.

"When we finally settled, our body clocks were nine hours ahead of European time. We couldn'™t get any decent sleep before our debut. Honduras, on the other hand, had arrived in Spain a month before the competition," he remembers.

El Salvador'™s FA hadn'™t helped morale when, incredibly, they registered only 20 players. Gilberto Quinteros and Miguel Gonzalez were left behind, according to the president, 'œbecause a 20-man squad was more than enough'.

"œIt was a big blow, not only because the FA took two officials instead of two players, but also because these two members didn'™t attend a single game. They simply dashed off soon after arriving, on a European holiday," recalls goalkeeper Ricardo Mora, now a civil servant.

Even the team'™s accommodation was a crummy shooting lodge near Alicante. "œWe were treated as third-class visitors," says Mora.

"œThe bags and kit FIFA gave us were old -“ most bared the 1974 World Cup'™s logo. It was shameful." And on top of everything, they didn'™t have any balls for training.

"The officials said they'd been stolen. So we sent a player to the Hungarian camp to ask for some. They had received the 25 FIFA sent to every team and they lent us a couple. That was one day before the game," says Rodriguez.

Screen time

The night before the game, a Spanish agent offered the squad a tape of Hungary in action, so the players whipped round to buy it.

""˜They play just like Paris Saint-Germain,"™ our manager told us while we watched it," says defender Mario Castillo. "We had beaten them in a friendly two weeks before. "We have to go and attack them as much as possible," he said. That was the biggest mistake of all time."

"œWhen the national anthem was played, we forgot about everything we had been through. It was emotional," admits Magico Gonzalez.

Until match day, the Spanish press had focused on the war, but after 90 minutes their angle would change...

It wasn'™t the best of starts. Tibor Nyilasi, the Hungarian captain, scored after just three minutes.

Nyilasi recalls: "œIt was my 50th cap and it was very special; I scored the first and the tenth goal. That game is impossible to repeat. Had we played it 100 times, we would never have racked up 10.

"œActually they weren'™t as bad a team as the result suggests. The problem was that they just tried to go forward rather naively."

The odds didn'™t look good, but the first half wasn'™t a complete disaster: 3-0 at half-time wasn'™t as catastrophic as it was about to become.

"œThey had a number of goal attempts, so we weren't convinced that the game was over," explains Nyilasi.

The real problems began when a mix-up between keeper and defender led to the fourth goal going in. "We had never conceded more than three goals before. When they struck the fourth one, we really started losing our nerves," says Diaz Arevalo, who watched the game from the stands and still thanks the doctors who refused to let him play because of an injury.