Di Stefano, Ferguson lead tributes to Hungarian giant Puskas

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The Independent Football

Alfredo Di Stefano, who formed a fearsome and legendary partnership with Ferenc Puskas at Real Madrid, said the game had lost one of its greats following the Hungarian's death of pneumonia at the age of 79. "I have lost a friend and a quality player," said Di Stefano."Puskas was one of the greatest football players of all time, but life, my friend, comes to an end when you least expect it."

Perhaps Puskas' finest hour was his country's 6-3 victory against England at Wembley in 1953, and Gil Merrick, the home goalkeeper that day, joined the chorus of tributes yesterday."It was a privilege to be done by them," said Merrick, now 84. "Their football was far in advance of ours. They were just too good for us. I could only do my best which I did do. Puskas, in his book, said that if I hadn't had a good game they would have had 12. Well that's how I looked at it!"

Merrick, who is recovering from a slight stroke, added: "Not only was Puskas a great footballer, he was a lovely man. He has not been well for a number of years and I wrote to him in hospital. It is a sad day for football."

Sir Alex Ferguson hailed Puskas as "a very special player". The Manchester United manager met Puskas several times and was in the crowd at Hampden Park when Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3, with Puskas scoring four times.

"I have many memories of him," Sir Alex said. "I was at the European Cup final in 1960, but I also saw him score the only goal against Rangers at Ibrox, before he got a hat-trick against them when Real scored six in the second leg. In his day he was a special player without question, part of that great period for Hungarian football. How they did not win the World Cup in 1954 is beyond me."

As a Scot, Sir Alex also has fond memories of 1953. "There was one point when Puskas cut back inside Billy Wright and took him so far out of the game he had to pay 'three and six' to get back into the ground," he laughed.

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, said: "I saw a guy today saying he had the brain of Zidane, the determination of Rooney and the skill of some Arsenal players, so he must have been a hell of a player."