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Born: Friday 23 August 1929, Kaposvár, Hungary
Died: Monday 1 September 1997, Győr, Hungary (aged 68)
A key member of Hungary's fearsome team of the 1950s, skilful winger Zoltán Czibor represented both Ferencváros and Honvéd with great distinction and played a crucial role in his country's 1952 Olympic success and run to the 1954 World Cup final. Like many of his international team-mates, he later moved west to Spain following the Hungarian uprising and enjoyed several successful years with Barcelona.
Czibor was born into a family of railway workers in the town of Kaposvár on 23 August 1929. Like his two brothers, he was a keen footballer from an early age and when he was 13 he joined youth team Komárom AC, later progressing into the senior ranks with Komárom MÁV. Czibor, was was a keen athlete as well as an excellent footballer, did not initially turn professional however, instead finding work as a train driver when he turned 18.
His big break came in May 1948 when he was spotted by the national youth coach, who was impressed by his speed, powerful left foot shot and outstanding movement both on and off the ball. Immediately called into the national youth team, Czibor was soon being chased by Hungary's leading clubs and in the summer of 1948 moved to Ferencváros. His impact was immediate, helping Ferencváros to the league title and earning a call-up to the full national team for the match against Austria in May 1949.
With Hungary having become a Communist state Ferencváros were taken over by food workers' union ÉDOSZ, and Czibor played one more season for the club under that name before being moved on to play for Csepel SC where he stayed for three years. In 1952, he was selected for the national squad for the Olympic Games in Helsinki, a tournament which would announce to the world the arrival of Hungary's immensely talented generation of players.
It was Czibor who scored Hungary's first goal of the tournament, in a 2-1 preliminary round win over Romania. After that narrow success, Hungary swept through the tournament with comfortable victories over Italy, Turkey and Sweden setting up a final against neighbouring Yugoslavia. In a tight match, Ferenc Puskás put Hungary ahead midway through the second half before Czibor struck two minutes from the end to seal the gold medals. On the back of his performances in the Olympics, he was drafted into army team Honvéd ahead of the 1953 season.
His first season with Honvéd was successful on an individual level, bringing 16 goals in 25 league games, but Honvéd fell just short of the league title as they finished three points behind Vörös Lobogó. Although not as prolific a goalscorer at international level as many of his fellow forwards, Czibor's dribbling skills and accurate passing made him a pivotal member of the national team as the 'Magical Magyars' went on a long unbeaten run ahead of the 1954 World Cup, winning the 'Dr. Gerö Cup' in 1953.
In the finals in Switzerland, Hungary were overwhelming favourites to take the title and surged through their group scoring 17 goals in their two games, with Czibor getting on the scoresheet in the 9-0 win over South Korea. Victory over Brazil in the last eight set up an epic semi-final with reigning champions Uruguay, where Czibor gave his country an early lead. Although they would let slip a 2-0 advantage, Hungary rallied in extra-time to reach the final where they met West Germany in a rematch of a group game which they had won 8-3.
In the final, Puskás gave Hungary the lead inside six minutes and when Czibor grabbed his third goal of the tournament just moments later, the World Cup seemed to be going to Hungary. However, a stunning German fightback saw them level within 10 minutes of Czibor's goal and they would go on to find a late winner to bring an end to Hungary's long unbeaten run at the worst possible time.
The disappointment of the World Cup defeat was eased when Honvéd stormed to the league title later in 1954, giving Czibor the second championship of his career. He would add a third twelve months later, scoring a career high 20 league goals to share the honour of being the league's leading scorer with team-mate Ferenc Machos. As champions, Honvéd went into the 1956-57 European Cup and their first round tie with Atlético Bilbao would prove to be a turning point in the lives of Czibor and many of his team-mates.
While Honvéd were out of the country for the away leg of that tie, a revolution erupted in Budapest. Honvéd decided against returning home and the second against Bilbao was played on neutral territory, with Czibor forced to play in goal after their goalkeeper was injured. Honvéd lost 6-5 on aggregate and following that defeat many of their players sought new clubs in the west, ending both their club and international careers in Hungary. Czibor initially moved to Italy and played a handful of games for AS Roma, but eventually his former team-mate László Kubala persuaded him to join him at Barcelona.
Czibor's first season at Barcelona brought a domestic double in 1958-59, although he did not appear in the cup final success over Granada. The following season brought another league title, won only on goal difference ahead of Real Madrid, as well as a run to the Fairs Cup final where Barcelona faced Birmingham City. After a goal-less first leg in England, Czibor contributed two vital goals in the return match as Barcelona won 4-1 to claim their first European trophy.
Twelve months later Czibor helped Barcelona to reach the European Cup final, which was to be played in Bern, the venue for the heartbreaking World Cup final loss he and Hungary had suffered seven years earlier. Again Czibor got on the scoresheet, but the result was identical as his team suffered a 3-2 defeat to Benfica. That proved to be the end of Czibor's Barcelona career as his contract was not renewed and he moved across the city to join rivals RCD Español, where he spent one season.
After briefly joining a third Spanish club, CE Europa, Czibor's career wound down with short spells in Switzerland, Austria and Canada, after which he returned to Barcelona and opened a bar called 'The Blue Danube'. Following the fall of the Communist regime in Hungary, Czibor finally returned home in 1990 and settled in Komárom, where his football career had begun almost half a century earlier. He spent his final years as president of a new football club formed in the town, before his death on 1 September 1997 at the age of 68.
References (all accessed 6 October 2012):
- Published on Saturday, 06 October 2012 21:03