BUDAPEST (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.
Around 10 thousand people, although 40,000 had been expected, bid farewell to Puskas 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.
Soldiers placed his coffin on a large three-tiered podium, with flames at each corner, in the centre of the football pitch.
“One star less on the earth from now on, one more star will shine in the sky,” former international team mate Jeno Buzanszky told the mourners.
At the end of the ceremony, hussars carried the coffin on a horse-drawn gun carriage around the pitch lined by 1,200 soccer players in the colours of different teams.
A funeral mass was held in the evening in the Szent Istvan cathedral, after a military ceremony in honour of the posthumous brigadier-general of the Hungarian army.
Earlier on Saturday the Hungarian flag was lowered to half mast outside parliament in front of the leaders of Hungary’s government, judiciary and military.
Called “the best-known Hungarian of the 20th century” by Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, 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 the World Cup trophy in 1954 against West Germany.
“I was at the final of the world cup between Hungary and Germany and I could admire...the dazzling ability, the powerful left foot and sensational tactical mind of Ferenc Puskas,” FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in the cathedral.
Puskas was admitted to hospital in late 2000 with arteriosclerosis and was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died on November 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.
He played in two of 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 -- whose name means rifleman -- 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 recent Hungarian national teams, which have not qualified for a major championship since 1986, the “Magical Magyars” led by Puskas lost just one match in six years -- the 1954 World Cup final.
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. In 1971, he coached Greek side Panathinaikos to the European Cup final, losing out to Ajax Amsterdam.
Puskas returned to Hungary in the early 1980s with Erzsebet.
His death was caused by cardiovascular and respiratory failure triggered by pneumonia.
“It is unforgettable and sad at once to be at Puskas Ocsi’s funeral, at the place where he had so many triumphs and gave joy to millions,” said Sandor Balogh, 70, holding a candle in the stadium.
Additional reporting by Zoltan Fazekas
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