July 4, 2008

The Miracle of Berne

American Independence day holds little interest for those interested in football's wonderful history, especially when we look at today's anniversary. The 1954 World Cup Final in Berne.

History is written by those who conquer. Those who lose are often forgotten, eroded by the sands of football's continuous cycle of seasons. Yet that could never be the case with the greatest international side never to have won the World Cup.

Below is the Wikipedia account of the final and its context. I'm not normally a fan of citing Wikipedia as my primary source, however this article is a good basic description of what happened and its impact at the time. Further details can be found from the links below.


The situation prior to the match

The Mighty Magyars

Hungary, with their legendary Mighty Magyars, were huge favourites to win the 1954 Tournament. In the five years prior to the World Cup 1954 they had remained unbeaten in 32 games, were reigning Olympic Champions and winners of the Central European International Cup teams in 1953. In 1953 they defeated England 6-3, becoming the first non-UK team to beat them at Wembley Stadium. Shortly after that England had received another humiliating defeat, losing 1-7 to Hungary in Budapest just before the World Cup.

Drawn in the same group in the first round, Hungary and West Germany already met in the group stage. Hungary easily won this match on a 8-3 scoreline. However, as Germany would have to re-play Turkey in a play-off game, German coach Herberger fielded a reserve team.

These players were not able to weather the Hungarian prowess, but by not fielding the strongest eleven, Herberger managed to obscure the real strength of the German team. In the group match against Germany, Hungarian captain Ferenc Puskás was injured and missed the following games of his team. Nevertheless, even without him playing the Magyars beat Brazil and Uruguay, the runners-up and winners of the 1950 World Cup in the quarter final and semi final, respectively. Thus, they had reached the Final, to be played at Berne's Wankdorf Stadium.

The unfancied Germans

Prior to 1954, Germany’s World Cup record was modest, a third place in the 1934 World Cup the pinnacle of their achievements. Germany was among those European nations who had not sent a team to Uruguay in 1930, citing economic reasons.

After the disaster of the 1936 Summer Olympics where a hapless German team succumbed to a 0-2 loss to Norway in the quarter-final, new coach Sepp Herberger had formed a quite successful German team in 1937, nicknamed the "Breslau-Elf" (Breslau Eleven) after beating Denmark 8-0 in Breslau. Just prior to the 1938 World Cup, Austrian players were ordered to join the German team as Austria became part of the German Empire in the so called Anschluss. This "united" German team was surprisingly knocked out in the first round of the 1938 World Cup after two unsuccessful games against Switzerland.

After the Second World War, the three German states (West and East Germany and the Saar) of that time were not allowed to compete in the 1950 World Cup. Thus, the qualification games for the 1954 World Cup were the first return of the then west German national squad to international competitions.

Many of the players on the German team were experienced but old, playing for the German club 1.FC Kaiserslautern who had lost the German Championship final prior to the World Cup against Hannover 96, in a 1-5 upset. That loss led the German public to give their national team only slim chances to even progress from the group stage of the tournament. However, the hard-earned 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia in the quarter final gave the team a boost leading them to a stunning 6-1 victory over Austria in the semi final.

The Match

The Wankdorf Stadion in Berne was packed with a crowd of 64,000 people, eagerly anticipating the encounter between the two teams. The match was played in heavy rain, weather conditions the German side had christened "Fritz Walter-weather", as the German team captain Fritz Walter was known for playing his best football under those conditions.

When it had rained a few days before the final, German coach Sepp Herberger had sent his players out to practice during heavy rain, as if foreseeing the weather conditions. In addition, the Germans were equipped with footwear supplied by adidas, which had produced a hitherto unheard of design of boot with exchangeable, screw-in studs that could be adapted to any weather. This enabled the German players to wear their regular boots despite the adverse weather.

Although he was not fully fit in time, Ferenc Puskás was back in the Hungarian lineup for the final match, and he put his team ahead after only 6 minutes. When Zoltán Czibor added the second goal for Hungary a mere two minutes later, the pre-tournament favourites seemed destined to ease to victory over Germany, just as they had in the group, and take the trophy.

However, Germany did not give up and equalised quickly, with goals from Max Morlock (10') and Helmut Rahn (18'). Having leveled the scores, the Germans now looked a match for the Hungarians and managed to reach half time at 2-2, both teams having missed several promising chances to take the lead. In the second half, the Hungarians poured forward looking to retake the lead, but their attempts were repeatedly foiled by the German defence with goalkeeper Toni Turek pulling off several fine saves.

With six minutes left and the Germans still holding out at 2-2, German striker Helmut Rahn, nicknamed "The Boss" reached the ball on a speculative German attack 20 yards in front of the Hungarian goal. Deceiving the Hungarian defender by shooting with his weaker left foot, he scored West Germany's third goal with an accurate drive to the bottom left of the goal, leaving Hungarian goalkeeper Grocics no chance. Two minutes before the end, Puskás equalised once more, but his goal was ruled off-side by the English linesman. The match and Hungary’s unbeaten run ended in one of the biggest upsets in the history of football.

Impact on German history

The unexpected win evoked a wave of euphoria throughout Germany, still suffering in the aftermath of World War II. The 1954 victory is regarded as a turning point in post-war German history by German historians Arthur Heinrich and Joachim Fest, due to being the first feeling of success for a beaten nation, living in a destroyed country.

As television was only available to few homes or public places then, German radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann emerged as a person of German contemporary history, due to his emotional radio report, heard by millions in Germany.

His reporting style borne by deep emotions ("call me crazy, call me nuts") and especially his ecstatic cries when Germany scored the winning goal ("Rahn should shoot from the background, Rahn shoots - goal, goal, goal!" - "Aus dem Hintergrund müsste Rahn schießen, Rahn schießt - TOR, TOR, TOR!"), and after the final whistle ("Over! Over! The game is over! Germany is World Champion, beating Hungary 3-2!" - "AUS! AUS! AUS! Das Spiel ist aus. Deutschland ist Weltmeister, schlägt Ungarn 3 zu 2!") are very well known and popular in Germany to this day, even to people who are not interested in football.


Whilst West Germany went on to greater things, Hungarian football has never recovered from that devastating blow on this day in 1954. Rather than partying with the Americans today, I'm off to hold moment's silence for the greatest team never to have won the World Cup.


The Observer - some excellent background info which places the final firmly in its social context

The Independent - it's been claimed at various times over the years that the German players were given stimulants prior to the match. This has been denied by the DFB.

YouTube - Footage of the final in four parts.


Behind the Curtain - pages 79-84

tor! The Story of German Football - pages 119-132

The Complete Book of the World Cup - pages 88-89


The Miracle of Berne

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