History of the World Cup: 1954 – The Miracle of Bern

German goalkeeper Anton Turek jumps and clears the ball of the head of Bernard Vukas of Yugoslavia, right, during the quarterfinals in 1954. (CP)

In a World Cup that many believed would serve as the coronation of a Hungary side that won the Olympics and swept aside all before them in the buildup to the tournament, West Germany stunned the field to come out on top in Switzerland in 1954.


With its headquarters in Zurich, FIFA celebrated its 50th anniversary by staging the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

This was a World Cup, held at the foot of the Swiss Alps, which reached dizzying heights of entertainment and drama thanks to a special Hungary team, an avalanche of goals and a “miracle” ending.

Forever known as the “Miracle of Bern,” West Germany defeated Ferenc Puskas and Hungary to win its first World Cup in one of the most dramatic World Cup finals.

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The 16-team field was divided into four groups with two teams in each group seeded. Each country only played two games, and the two seeded teams did not play each other. Also, strangely enough, there were no draws — extra time was used to decide games that were tied at the end of regulation. The top two teams in each group would advance to the quarterfinals. Teams tied on points after two games would play an extra game to decide who progressed.


The Hungary-West Germany final was a repeat of the first-round match that saw German coach Sepp Herberger purposely field a weakened team. The question going into this contest was whether or not Puskas would play. His ankle had not fully healed from the first game, but the Galloping Major trotted out onto the field at Bern’s Wankdorf stadium for the final on July 4.

Heavy rains made for a slick field, but although the conditions were hardly ideal, both sides put on a mesmerizing display of skill. Hungary jumped out to a 2-0 lead after eight minutes through Puskas and Zoltan Czibor. The Germans, to their credit, did not become unhinged and hit back within two minutes. Helmut Rahn’s centering pass deflected off of Hungary’s Jozsef Bozsik into the path of Max Morlock who athletically stretched to poke the ball past goalkeeper Gyula Grosics. In the 18th minute, Fritz Walter curled a corner kick that passed through the hands of Grosics and fell fortuitously at the feet of Rahn who thundered the ball into the back of the net.

Puskas was denied twice on brilliant saves by Toni Turek, Kocsis’s header hit the crossbar, and German defender Werner Kohlmeyer cleared Jozsef Toth’s shot off the goal-line. Germany weathered the storm, and with six minutes left in regulation, it completed the miraculous comeback. Hans Schaefer raced down the left wing and crossed the ball over a crowd of players into the penalty box. Hungary’s Mihaly Lantos appeared to have intercepted, but instead the ball flashed by him and into the path of Rahn who took a few steps before driving a low shot past the goalkeeper.

The frantic Hungarians appeared to have equalized a mere two minutes later when Puskas, still labouring under a sore ankle, latched onto a pass from Toth that beat the German defence and scored. It was not to be, however, as the Welsh linesman ruled Puskas was offside, a controversial call that Hungary disputed even after the game. Shortly after, English referee Bill Ling blew the final whistle.


Number of participating teams: 16
Top scorer: Hungary’s Sandor Kocsis (11 goals)
Number of games: 26
Total goals scored: 140
Average goals per game: 5.38
Highest scoring game: Austria’s 7-5 win over Switzerland on June 262
Total attendance: 943,000
Average attendance: 36,269


Sandor Kocsis. With Ferenc Puskas injured, the legendary centre-forward took centre stage and finished the competition as top scorer with 11 goals. Nicknamed “Golden Head” for his aerial ability, Kocsis became the first man to score two hat tricks in the same World Cup (three goals against South Korea, four against West Germany in the first round).


Hungary’s 4-2 victory over Uruguay in the semifinals. The most exciting match of the tournament pitted dominant Hungary against the reigning world champions. Tied 2-2 after 90 minutes, Sandor Kocsis scored a pair of goals in extra time to lift Hungary to victory in what is widely regarded as one of greatest games in World Cup history.


Aside from the Brazil team of 1982 and the 1974 Dutch side, Hungary’s 1954 squad is regarded as the greatest team never to win a World Cup. Led by the legendary quartet of Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti and Jozsef Bozsik, Hungary was the overwhelming pre-tournament favourite. Gold-medal winners at the 1952 Helsinki Games, Hungary was unbeaten since May 1950 in 28 games (24 wins, four draws) prior to the World Cup.


Herbert Zimmermann description of Helmut Rahn’s winning goal against Hungary is the most famous piece of commentary in German sports history.

Schafer nach innen geflankt… Kopfball… Abgewehrt. Aus dem Hintergrund mußte Rahn schießen… Rahn schießt! Tor! Tor! Tor! Tor! (Silence) Tor fur Deutschland! Drei zu zwei fuhrt Deutschland. Halten Sie mich für verruckt, halten Sie mich fur ubergeschnappt!

Schafer puts in the cross… header… Cleared. Rahn must shoot from deep… Rahn shoots! Goal! Goal! Goal! Goal! (Zimmermann falls silent for eight seconds) Goal for Germany! Germany lead 3-2. Call me mad, call me crazy!


Hungary dismantled West Germany 8-3 in the first round, with Kocsis scoring four goals. The game, however, was more noteworthy for an incident involving Puskas and Werner Liebrich. The tall, blond German defender savagely hacked at Puskas’s ankles and the Galloping Major crashed to the ground. In essence, it was this kick that won the World Cup. Puskas left the game and did not return until the final where he was a shadow of his usual great self against the Germans.


The quarterfinal between Hungary and Brazil was one of the ugliest matches ever at the World Cup and became known as the infamous “Battle of Bern.” Three players were ejected, several were brought down by vicious tackles and fisticuffs were exchanged. Even after the game, won 4-2 by Hungary, tensions boiled over as the teams fought back to the locker-rooms — according to several observers, Puskas, who watched from the sidelines, hit Brazilian defender Pinheiro in the face with a bottle.


The 1954 tournament averaged an amazing 5.38 goals-per-game, still the highest average in World Cup history.


One of the strangest goals at the World Cup was scored during the England-Uruguay quarterfinal. Setting up for a free kick, Obdulio Varela picked up the ball and dropkicked it (similar to a CFL punter) while teammate Juan Schiaffino ran past the confused English defence and scored. Amazingly, the referee allowed the goal to stand.


German director Sonke Wortmann’s feature film “Das Wunder von Bern,” (The Miracle of Bern), came out in 2003. The movie tells the tale of a young boy and his unemployed father who are brought together by West Germany’s win over Hungary in the 1954 World Cup final.


The 1954 World Cup was the first to be televised.


• FIFA issued special coins to mark the competition.

• Sixteen teams took part in the finals, three more than the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. This figure remained constant until the 1982 World Cup in Spain when the field ballooned to 24 nations.

• Two players in 1954 went on to play for different nations at future tournaments. Hungary’s Ferenc Puskas and Uruguay’s Jose Santamaria both played for Spain at the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

• Aside from Kocsis, only three other players have ever scored two hat tricks at the World Cup — France’s Just Fontaine (both in 1958), Germany’s Gerd Muller (both in 1970) and Argentina’s Gabriel Batistuta (one in 1994 and one in 1998).

• Turkey qualified for the World Cup under very unusual circumstances. They had split two games with Spain and the third game in the playoff series, held in a neutral country (Italy), finished tied at the end of regulation. Instead of playing extra time, a local Italian teenager was blindfolded and drew straws to determine the winner. Turkey won.

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