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Football

The 1954 World Cup, ‘The Miracle of Berne’

The 1954 FIFA World Cup, the fifth staging of the World Cup, was held in Switzerland from 16 June to 4 July. Switzerland was awarded the tournament unopposed on 22 July 1946, the same day that Brazil was selected for the 1950 World Cup, in Luxembourg City.

The hosts (Switzerland) and the defending champions (Uruguay) qualified automatically. Of the remaining 14 places, 11 were allocated to Europe (including Egypt, Turkey and Israel), two to the Americas, and one to Asia.

The 1954 tournament used a unique format. The sixteen qualifying teams were divided into four groups of four teams each. Each group contained two seeded teams and two unseeded teams. Only four matches were scheduled for each group, each pitting a seeded team against an unseeded team. This contrasts with the usual round-robin in which every team plays every other team: six matches in each group. Another oddity was that extra time, which in most tournaments is not employed at the group stage, was played in the group games if the score was level after 90 minutes, with the result being a draw if the scores were still level after 120 minutes.

Two points were awarded for a win and one for a draw. The two teams with the most points from each group progressed to the knockout stage. If the first and second placed teams were level on points, lots were drawn to decide which team would top the group. However, if the second and third placed teams were level on points, there was a play-off to decide which team would progress to the next stage.

It turned out that two of the four groups required play-offs, and the other two required drawing of lots between the two top teams. The play-offs were between Switzerland and Italy, and Turkey and West Germany: in both matches the unseeded teams (Switzerland and West Germany) repeated earlier victories against the seeds (Italy and Turkey) to progress. In the other two groups, lots were drawn to determine the first-place teams: resulting in Uruguay and Brazil finishing above Austria and Yugoslavia, respectively.

A further unusual feature of the format was that the four group-winning teams were drawn against each other in the knockout stages to produce one finalist, and the four second-placed teams played against each other to produce the second finalist. In subsequent tournaments it has become customary to draw group winners against second-placed teams in the first knockout round.

The Hungary team that lost to German in the final included Ferenc Puskas (middle of front row) and Sandor Kocsis (fourth on back row), who was the top scorer of the tournament

In any knockout game tied after 90 minutes, 30 minutes of extra time were played. If the scores had still been level after extra time, in any knockout game other than the final, lots would have been drawn to decide which team progressed. However, if the final had been tied after extra time, it would have been replayed, with lots deciding the winner only if the replay was also tied after extra time. In the event, all the knockout games were decided in either normal time or extra time, with no replays or drawing of lots being required.

West German, who had been reinstated as full FIFA members only in 1950 and were unseeded, convincingly won the first of two encounters with the seeded Turkish side at Wankdorf stadium in Bern. The South Koreans, the other unseeded team, lost 7–0 and 9–0, with West Germany being denied the chance to play such an easy opponent. Sepp Herberger, the West German coach, gambled against the seeded team of Hungary by sending in a reserve side, and lost 8–3; so they had to play off against Turkey, a match that West Germany easily won.

Hungary’s team captain Ferenc Puskas, considered by many as the best player in the world in that time, was injured by West German defender Werner Liebrich, and had to miss Hungary’s next two matches. Puskás played for Hungary in the final, despite still being in a questionable condition.

In the quarter-finals, the favorites Hungary beat Brazil 4–2 in one of the most violent matches in football history, which became infamous as the Battle of Berne. Meanwhile, the World Cup holders Uruguay sent England out of the tournament, also by 4–2. West Germany dispatched Yugoslavia 2–0, and Austria beat the host nation Switzerland in the game that saw the most goals in any World Cup match, 7–5.

In the first semi-final, West Germany beat Austria 6–1.

The other semi-final, one of the most exciting games of the tournament, saw Hungary go into the second half leading Uruguay 1–0, only for the game to be taken to extra time with a score after 90 minutes of 2–2. The deadlock was broken by Sandor Kocsis with two late goals to take Hungary through to the final, with Uruguay finally losing their unbeaten record in World Cup Final matches. Uruguay then went on to be beaten for a second time as Austria secured third place.

Final: “The Miracle of Bern”

The Wanhdorf Stadion in Berne saw 60,000 people cram inside to watch the final between West Germany and Hungary, a rematch of a first-round game, which Hungary had won 8–3 against the reserves of the German team. The Golden Team of the Hungarians were favorites, as they were unbeaten for a record of 32 consecutive matches, but they had had two tough play-off matches. It started raining on match day – in Germany this was dubbed Fritz-Walter-Wetter (“Fritz Walter’s weather”) because the West German team captain Fritz Walter was said to play his best in the rain. Adi Dassler had provided shoes with exchangeable studs.

Hungary’s Ferenc Puskás played again in the final, even though he was not fully fit. Despite this he put his team ahead after only six minutes and with Zoltan Czibor adding another two minutes later it seemed that the pre-tournament favorites would take the title. However, with a quick goal from Max Morlock in the 10th and the equalizer of Helmut Rahn in the 19th, the tide began to turn.

The second half saw telling misses by the Hungarian team. Barely six minutes before the end of the match. The second goal from Rahn gave West Germany a 3–2 lead while the Hungarian reporter Gyorgy Szepesi burst into tears. Later, Zimmermann called Puskás offside before he kicked the ball into Toni Turek’s net with 2 minutes left. While referee pointed to the centre spot, linesman signalled offside. After a one-minute consultation, referee Ling disallowed the claimed equalizer.

West Germany’s captain and coach, Fritz Walter and Sepp Herberger, are carried aloft following their final win over Hungary

The West Germans were handed the Jules Rimet Trophy and the title of World Cup winners, while the crowd sang along to the tune of the national anthem of West Germany. In Germany the success is known as “The Miracle of Berne”, upon which a 2003 film of the same name was based. For the Hungarians, the defeat was a disaster, and remains controversial due to claimed referee errors and claims of doping.

Sandor Kocsis was the top scorer of the tournament with 11 goal, the most at a single World Cup tournament at the time.

The following all-time records were set or equaled at this tournament, and have not subsequently been surpassed:

All matches in one tournament.

  • highest average goals per game (5.38)

Team records for one tournament.

  • Most goals scored (Hungary, 27)
  • Highest average goals scored per game (Hungary, 5.4)
  • Highest aggregate goal difference (Hungary, +17)
  • Highest average goal difference per game (Hungary, +3.4)
  • Most goals scored, champions (West Germany, 25)
  • Most goals scored per game, champions (West Germany, 4.17)
  • Most goals conceded, champions (West Germany, 14)
  • Most goals conceded per game, champions (West Germany, 2.33)
  • Most goals conceded (South Korea, 16)
  • Lowest aggregate goal difference (South Korea, −16)
  • Most goals conceded per game (South Korea, 8, tied with Bolivia 1950)
  • Lowest average goal difference per game (South Korea, −8.0, tied with Bolivia 1950).

Records for a single game

  • Most goals in a single game (both teams) (Austria 7 Switzerland 5)
  • Greatest margin of victory in a single game (Hungary 9 South Korea 0) (subsequently equaled by Yugoslavia winning 9–0 against Zaire in 1974 and again Hungary winning 10–1 against El Salvador in 1982).

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