Messi, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Beckenbauer, Maradona, Pelé – these are all names that sound very familiar for even the least dedicated football fan. The players above are legends who earned their place in every hall of fame due to their performance on the turf. There are, in turn, legends that did some truly remarkable things but somehow their names are far less known.
Romanian football is a mere shadow of its former glory. The country’s national team hasn’t qualified for any World Cups since 1998 and its clubs are, more often than not, victims of mismanagement and corruption.
This was not always the case, though. Steaua Bucuresti (currently FCSB) was, at one point, the most successful team in Europe, winning the European Cup in 1986. And one of the men to thank for the win was goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam.
The final played by Steaua and Barcelona ended without any goals, so its result had to be decided by penalties. Barcelona conceded two penalties but Romania, none. In a performance you wouldn’t even expect from a player in a virtual sporting event, Duckadam saved all four of Barca’s penalties, earning the recognition of the entire world and the nickname “the Hero of Seville”. And winning Steaua the European Cup.
Ferenc Puskás – the player who lent his name to the FIFA Puskás Award in 2009 – is widely regarded as the first international football star, and one of the best players in history. He scored 514 league goals playing for Hungary’s Honvéd and Real Madrid and scored 84 goals in his 85 apps with the Hungarian national team.
Puskás was part of the Golden Team (also known as the Mighty Magyars), the Hungarian squad that beat Italy at the Central European Championship in 1953, England in November the same year (and the return match one year later), West Germany in the 1954 World Cup final, and the Soviet Union in 1956. Between 1950 and 1956, the team won 42 of its 50 games, ending the run with 7 draws and just one defeat. Puskás contributed more than 50 goals to the team’s total.
Puskás became a successful manager after retiring from football, taking Panathinaikos to the European Cup final in 1971. The FIFA award bearing his name is presented to the player – male or female – scoring the most beautiful goal of each year.
Finally, let us mention a footballer that changed the way balls fly: Waldyr Pereira, better known by his nickname “Didi”.
Didi was often seen as a “magician” on the turf because of the technique he used for his free-kicks: “Folha Seca” (dry leaf) that produces no spinning motion, making the ball fly unpredictably so a goalkeeper has trouble predicting where it will head. During his matches with the Brazilian national team, Didi participated in two World Cups and scored almost 70 goals, dozens of them with his signature technique.