Historical Football #2 – Das Wunder von Bern

Historical Football returns with one of the biggest shocks in football history – the 1954 World Cup final between West Germany and Hungary. Or, as it’s known now, “The Miracle of Bern”…

The word miracle is perhaps thrown around way too easily at times but with the 1954 World Cup final, it is the most appropriate word. “The Miracle of Bern” is one of the great upsets in footballing history but one that is often forgotten or overlooked. Not any more…

The football world was a vastly different place in 1954. Uruguay were the world champions, Brazil were not looked at as a global powerhouse and the best team in the world was the mighty Hungary. Under the tutelage of Gusztáv Sebes, Hungary swept aside teams the world over throughout the early 1950s. With their new, flexible and successful 2-3-3-2 formation, they were the prototype of Dutch Total Football of the 1970s and the first team from outside the UK to defeat England at Wembley and not only defeated the English but demolished them. Built around a front line including the legendary Ferenc Puskás and Sándor Kocsis, they were unbeaten for 4 years leading up to the World Cup and were red hot favourites to win given their “Mighty Magyars” tag. West Germany, on the other hand, were not going as well. Still reeling from World War II, they were banned from the 1950 World Cup and the 1954 World Cup was their return to worldwide attention. There were no real hopes heading into the tournament what with the team being essentially amateurs (the Bundesliga wouldn’t start up until 1963).

Group 2 of the first round of the tournament saw both Hungary and West Germany drawn together. As expected, the Hungarians cruised through with two wins from two, scoring 17 goals in the process and defeating the Germans 8-3. The West Germans’ opening win over Turkey coupled with the crushing defeat and Turkey’s win over South Korea saw them have to go to a play-off with the Turks to decide who went through. The Germans powered past the Turks 7-2 with a hat trick from star striker Max Morlock.

Max Morlock (white) scores the first West German goal of the final
Max Morlock (white) scores the first West German goal of the final

The quarter finals threw up a big challenge for Hungary in the form of Brazil. The Brazilians were on the rise and had begun developing a reputation for open, attacking football in the same mould as the Hungarians. The game however did not live up to the reputation. Referee Arthur Ellis commented later that both sets of players “behaved like animals” as 3 players were sent off and the most of the game was fouls and fights. Hungary did win 4-2 but the game will live on in infamy as it came to be known as “The Battle of Bern”. The Germans meanwhile had an easier time of it against Yugoslavia. They eased past their opponents 2-0 and moved calmly onto the semis.

Hungary had another difficult assignment for the semis with reigning world champions Uruguay. They made hard work of it, letting a two goal lead slip late on before winning 4-2 in extra time. The Germans again cruised through their match defeating neighbours Austria 6-1 with a brace each from the Walter brothers. This set up a rematch from the opening round and the stage for one of the most shocking and controversial games of all time.

The Hungarian line up was one that was expected with the mercurial “Galloping Major” Puskás captaining the side (despite not being fully fit) and being ably supported by top scorer Kocsis, Nándor Hidegkuti, Zoltán Czibor and Mihály Tóth. It was a fearsome team that had played its way through the tournament including those grueling knockout games. The Germans were much changed from their earlier demolishing by Hungary. Coach Sepp Herberger had sent out a reserve side in the first game and, in doing so, had masked the true quality of the Germans from Hungary. Fritz Walter led the side out with brother Ottmar, striker Morlock and Helmut Rahn providing extra quality. Despite this, the game was still expected to be a blowout of epic proportions with the Germans being embarrassed by their superior opponents. However, Bern on that day experienced heavy rain and this favoured the Germans whose captain was an expert in those conditions. Another interesting factor was the Germans use of adidas boots which were better on the slippery pitch than the old fashioned Hungarian boots.

Captains Fritz Walter (l) and Ferenc Puskás (r) pre-match with referee William Ling (m)
Captains Fritz Walter (l) and Ferenc Puskás (r) pre-match with referee William Ling (m)

Despite the conditions and footwear advantage, the Germans were quickly behind. A sloppy piece of play in their own half led to half back József Bozsik intercepting the ball. He fed it into Hidegkuti whose shot was deflected right into the path of Puskás. The captain coolly slotted the ball under German keeper Toni Turek and the Hungarians were ahead after just 6 minutes. And things got worse for the underdogs just two minutes later when a mix up in their own area led to Turek fumbling the ball right into the path of Czibor who couldn’t have scored an easier goal. However, the Germans refused to lie down and admit defeat and within two minutes had a goal back. The ball was worked out left to Helmut Rahn whose low cross-shot wasn’t dealt with and Max Morlock was on hand to poke home on the slide. The goal gave Germany hope and on 18 minutes they were level. Captain Fritz Walter floated in a corner from the left which Hungarian keeper Gyula Grosics was obstructed at by Hans Schäfer. The ball fell unchallenged to an unmarked Rahn at the back post who stabbed it home. The goal stood when it really shouldn’t have. Grosics was clearly obsturcted and this turned out to be a turning point in the game.

The Hungarians were shocked at having lost another two goal lead and poured forward in search of the goal that would give them the lead. Time and time again they were denied by Turek in the German goal and eventually they tired. And that is when West Germany struck. Rahn had time on the edge of the Hungarian area and came in onto his left foot before firing a low shot right into the corner of the net. Grosics had no chance and it was a remarkable turnaround from West Germany. Hungary continued to pour forward and with two minutes left they thought they were level. Puskas had the ball in the net but while the referee pointed to the centre circle, the linesman flagged him offside. After consultation, English referee William Ling ruled it out. That proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Hungary who lost their first game in 4 years. As for West Germany, the win was huge as it lifted the morale of a country decimated and horribly scarred by World War II. It was also a remarkable achievement as it remains the only time that a team has won the World Cup with all amateur players.

West Germany celebrate winning the 1954 World Cup
West Germany celebrate winning the 1954 World Cup

The controversy from this game rumbled on for years as it left the Hungarians with a sour taste. Footage shown on German TV in 2004 proved that Puskás’ late goal was onside and should never have been ruled out. However, perhaps the greatest controversy that still rumbles on today, is whether the Germans were on performance enhancing drugs. The team denied anything of the sorts but many were suspicious about their superior physical conditioning considering Hungary were renowned for being one of the fittest teams in the world. Studies have shown that their may be some evidence of doping with regards to the German team but it is all irrelevant now as nobody can change the result now.

Despite the controversy and mystery surrounding it, the 1954 World Cup final will live long in the memory of football fans due to the shock of seeing the Hungarians defeated. They were perhaps the greatest team to never win the World Cup. It was going to take a miracle to defeat the “Mighty Magyars” on that day in Bern and, by hook or by crook, West Germany got one. They got “Das Wundr von Bern”.

There is another Historical Football. If you enjoyed it then let me know here, on Twitter (@LongBallFoot) or on The Long Ball’s new Facebook page (The Long Ball). Also, suggestions for future editions are welcome as well.



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