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Football legend Puskas dies at 79

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BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Hungarian football legend Ferenc Puskas died in hospital at the age of 79 on Friday, following a long illness.

Puskas, dubbed "The Galloping Major", was one of football's all-time greats, winning league titles with Hungarian club Honved and with Spanish giants Real Madrid, with whom he also won three European Cups.

He was the inspiration behind the "Magical Magyars", the Hungarian national side that sensationally beat England 6-3 in 1953, the first foreign side to win at Wembley.

His international goal scoring record of 83 goals in 84 games for Hungary has been eclipsed recently, but remains among the most prolific in the world.

As the last millennium drew to a close, Puskas was voted the 20th century's fourth best player by the International Federation for Football History and Statistics.

Born in April 1927, Puskas began his career in the domestic league aged 15 and won his first international cap two years later, scoring on his debut against Austria.

He was a talismanic member of Hungary's "Golden Team" that lost just one match -- the 1954 World Cup final -- in six years during the 1950s.

That side was devastated by Hungary's anti-communism uprising in 1956, after which Puskas went into exile.

In 1958, he resurrected his career at Real Madrid where he formed a lethal strike partnership with Argentinian Alfredo Di Stefano, winning six domestic titles and conquering Europe.

Puskas scored four and Di Stefano three in Real's mesmerizing 7-3 European Cup win over Eintracht Frankfurt in Glasgow in 1960 -- a match that passed into folklore.

Puskas retired in 1967, going on to coach clubs in several countries, leading Greek side Panathanaikos to the European Cup final in 1971.

Puskas, who was admitted to hospital in late 2000 with arteriosclerosis and was later diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, leaves a wife Erzsebet.

Tributes flow

Real Madrid led the tributes to their former star on Friday.

"The name of Puskas is linked forever with the great triumphs at home and abroad of Real Madrid and especially the European Cup," the club said in a statement posted on their Web site.

Alfredo di Stefano, who along with Puskas and Francisco Gento was one of Real's "Angels of Bernabeu", said Puskas was one of the greatest players of all time.

"I have lost a friend and quality player. That's how Puskas was as a person and a football player. He was one of the greatest players of all time but life, my friend, when you least expect it comes to en end," he said.

Club chairman Ramon Calderon said it had been the most painful day for him since he took over the presidency.

"He had many friends and was a man liked by everyone, admired as a professional and a person," Calderon said.

"I will remember his goals with much affection, he was the pichichi (top scorer in Spain) on four occasions."

Puskas' family appealed in a statement for dignified mourning and Hungary's parliament held a one-minute silence.

"The best-known Hungarian of the 20th century is gone," Hungary's Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said in a statement.

Former England great Tom Finney missed the famous 1953 game through injury, but was inspired by Puskas and the Hungarian team.

"My memories are that I have never seen the likes of ... as a team or an individual," Finney told the BBC.


Puskas was the inspiration behind the great Hungarian side of the 1950s.

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