Out of all the World Cups Germany has won, none is more fondly remembered than the 1954 title. And with good reason.
When Das Deutschlandied blares in the Arena Fonte Nova in the coastal city of Salvador, Brazil on the afternoon of 16 June, eleven Germans will be standing on the pitch with their right palms across their chests, proudly touching the national team badge, belief coursing through their veins as they battle to win a fourth World Cup trophy for their country. They will be aware of the massive hopes and expectations from the countless supporters of Die Mannschaft, which simply translates to “The Team”. The Germans have performed exceedingly well in the tournament in the past and their self-belief is not misplaced.
The German national football team is second in the FIFA rankings ahead of the World Cup in Brazil. They have lifted the World Cup trophy three times, and finished second and third on four occasions each. The record is enviable at the very least and has helped carve the country’s name in the record books as one of the most consistent performers in the World Cup’s history. But if there was one moment that kick-started Germany’s track record at the World Cup, it was the 1954 World Cup Final win in Switzerland.
Die Mannschaft vs. The Magical Magyars
The 1954 World Cup final, better known as the Miracle of Bern, stands today as a point in history, that greatly influenced the footballing futures of two great European footballing institutions, with drastically opposite results. While one team rose to far greater prominence and success on the biggest stage in world football, the other slipped into anonymity. What is far more curious is that the winner of the tournament won it against all odds. Germany was not expected to even be in the finals, let alone defeat the mighty Hungary.
The Hungarian team of 1954 was at the peak of its powers. Undefeated for four years, the Magical Magyars were, ironically enough for the Germans, The Team in every sense of the term. This was the Hungary of Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti, Bozsik and Zoltan Czibor; The Hungary, who had hammered Turkey 7-0, Brazil 4-2, Uruguay 4-2 and even the Germans by a massive 8-3 margin. You had to go all the way back to 14 May 1950 for the last time the Hungarians had lost. Hungary was expected to win the final. Budapest was already half celebrating even before the ball had been kicked in the final.
Germany’s story was a stark contrast. They were still suffering from the embarrassment of the sanctions imposed by the Allies after the fall of the Third Reich. Economic growth was at a snail’s pace. The country had been divided into four zones, occupied by the winners of the War. German nationalism, which was at its height during the War, was left shattered and destroyed. The utterance of the word ‘Nazi’ was forbidden, the morale of the country was at a low.
In such circumstances, Germany and Hungary met in the final of the 1954 World Cup final in Bern. When German captain Fritz Walter led his team out in the Wankdorf Stadion at 5 pm on 4 July 1954, damage control would’ve been on his mind. The Hungarians had already battered them 8-3 in the group stages. Little did Walter and his teammates know that this match was going to define German football for years to come and that Das Wunder von Bern would go down in football history.
And six minutes into the match, the script looked to have been written for a Hungary win. A cross from the right wing was deflected onto the path of captain Ferenc Puskas, who slotted the ball home from inside the box. Two minutes later, a miscommunication between defender Werner Kohlmeyer and his goalkeeper Toni Turek led to Hungary’s second goal, Zsoltan Czibor pouncing on the loose ball to roll the ball into the back of the net. Instead of being dejected, in a display of German determination characteristic of the team now, Max Morlock and Ottmar Walter rallied his teammates to not give up heart.
The effect was immediate. Helmut Rahn attacked the left side and his blocked shot was turned in by the outstretched Max Morlock. It was 2-1. A sense of belief came to the Germans. A fight-back was on with ten minutes gone. Then in the 18th minute, a corner from the skipper Fritz Walter found an unmarked Rahn at the far post, who hammered the ball from the outside of his right foot into the net. The German fans went delirious. The energy percolated on to the pitch and they found new life in the match.
Coach Sepp Herberger sent the Germans on to the pitch in the second half ordering his troops not to give the Hungarians an inch. He expected an onslaught from the Magical Magyars and he was proved right. The Hungarians emerged as a deadly force. Wave after wave of Hungarian attack was repelled by the Germans. Twice the Hungarians hit the post, twice the ball was cleared off the line, once by Posipal and a second time by Kohlmeyer. The Germans defended with skill and hard work, getting behind the ball and intercepting passes, blocking shots.
Das Wunder von Bern
Then in the 84th minute, the miracle happened. Germans who were fortunate enough to witness the event still look back fondly at the moment, which was described in a now-legendary commentary bit by Herbert Zimmerman:
“Germany, down the left with Schafer,” continued Zimmermann. “Schafer’s ball to Morlock is blocked by the Hungarian defence – Boszik, still Boszik on the ball, the Hungarian right winger. He loses the ball this time to Schafer – Schafer crosses into the middle – header – blocked – Rahn has to shoot from distance – Rahn shoots! Goal! Goal! 3-2 to Germany!”
The ground exploded with German fans giddy with joy at the turn of events. In a thrilling end, seconds after the goal, Puskas found the net for a supposed Hungarian equalizer, which was controversially ruled out for offside. The Germans heaved a sigh of relief as millions back home listened intently, on the edge of the seat hung on to every word by Zimmerman, until he said: “Over! Over! Over! The match is over! Germany are world champions, beating Hungary 3-2 in the Final in Bern!”
Victory against the legendary Hungarian team is still held close to German hearts. The World Cup glory of ’54 helped instill pride once again in the Germans. The feeling of nationalism and love for the fatherland grew as a result of this historic triumph. To come from 2-0 down to beat the mighty Magical Magyars, the best team in the world gave the Germans confidence in their abilities and brought smiles back upon faces ragged and weary from the post-war trauma.
Perhaps what makes the win even more meaningful is the economic strength Germany went through after 1954. In a sense, the Miracle at Bern gave way to Germany strengthening its economy and helped usher in an era of Economic Miracles. People in Germany still see the victory at Bern as the turning point in not only their country’s footballing fortunes, but also in their economic rise to prominence. Since that final, Germany have gone on from strength to strength, winning two more World Cup titles in 1974 and 1990 and the European Cup thrice, while Hungary never made it to a World Cup final again. Ferenc Puskas remained one of the all time great players never to have won the World Cup. Hungary eventually slipped into mediocrity, never a regular at the international stage.
Some say that it was Adolf Dassler’s ingenious football cleats that gave the Germans the advantage over the Hungarians on a rain soaked pitch at the Wankdorf Stadion. Whatever be the case, in the sense that it channeled the fates of two great footballing nations, and so inversely proportional to each other’s, the World Cup final of 1954 remains one of the most pivotal junctures in World Cup history, both for its romance and its relevance even today in the footballing histories of the two mighty teams that clashed in the final for the Jules Rimet trophy in the fourth ever edition of the world’s most prestigious footballing prize.