This is the fifth in a weekly series of World Cup history lessons brought to you by our very own “Professor” Guy Bailey. He is not actually a professor; the only professor on staff is Jamie Clary. Well, sort of.
The 1954 World Cup
The 1954 World Cup saw the competition return to Europe and as it was the 50th anniversary of FIFA, they thought it fitting to hold the competition in their backyard – Switzerland.
The competition format was a familiar one to modern audiences at first glance but on closer inspection revealed a curious anomaly. There were 16 teams in the finals, so four groups of four teams were arranged. However, now we go into quantum mathematics territory so pay attention. Instead of each team playing the other three on a min-league basis; the two seeded teams in each group would play the two unseeded ones so as to give the bigger/better/better-connected teams a greater chance of qualification. This meant that teams only player two games in the first round instead of three. But, and there’s always a but, unless two teams were level on points in which case they would play off to see who went through to the quarter finals.
Group 1 saw Brazil and unseeded Yugoslavia advance past the favored French and Mexicans. Group 2 saw tournament favorites Hungary, seeded Turkey, West Germany (competing in their first world cup as a new nation) and the Korean Republic (now South Korea). The Hungarians, led by the incomparable Puskas, laid down their marker in convincing style from the start, thrashing the Koreans 9-0 and then routing the West Germans equally convincingly 8-3 in their second match. 17 goals in two matches. Turkey also walloped the hapless Koreans 7-0 to force a playoff with the West Germans. The Germans, who had previously beaten the Turks 4-1 in regular group play, reprised their performance and advanced to the quarters winning 7-2. Ironically, if goal difference had been used to separate the teams then Turkey would have gone through.
Group 3 was a more cut and dried affair with Uruguay and Austria both beating Scotland and Czechoslovakia in short order to go through and in Group 4 England finally made it through to the knock out stages despite drawing 4-4 with Belgium and beating the hosts 2-0. The unseeded Swiss played off against Italy for the last quarter final place, beating them 2-1 in regular group play and also beating them 4-1 in the playoff; again goal difference would have seen the Italians march on.
The quarter finals saw the dominant Hungarians stroll past Brazil 4-2 whilst defending champions Uruguay sent England home by the same score line. West Germany beat Yugoslavia 2-0 and in an absolute cracker, Austria eliminated the hosts 7-5.
The semi finals saw drama in the first as Hungary needed extra time to defeat Uruguay, who came back from 2-0 down with two goals in the last ten minutes. In the other semi final, a derby to all intents, West Germany got the better of neighbours/friends/5th columnists Austria 6-1. The first official 3rd/4th playoff match saw Austria win 3-1.
The final was staged at the ever amusing Wankdorf Stadium in Berne, on 4th July in a thunderstorm and the Hungarians started like lightening going 2-0 up after only eight minutes. Puskas, returning from injury and not fully fit, scoring the first. The Germans, wearing revolutionary Adidas boots with interchangeable studs for the first time, were able to finally find their feet and pulled one back thanks to the Harry Potteresque sounding Max Morlock two minutes later and then equalized with the equally appropriate Helmut Rahn after 18 minutes.
Both teams were now matched and despite further chances for each, went into half time at 2-2. The weather refused to relent in the second half and neither did the Hungarians, pouring forward in incessant attacks but foiled by the German keeper, and part time Dinosaur Hunter Turek. Finally, with six minutes remaining, Germany broke away and Rahn put them in front 3-2. There was further controversy when Puskas thought he had equalized in the last minute with a header but the Welsh linesmen, Benjamin Griffiths, ruled the great man offside and the Germans held on to win the match they would refer to as “Das Wunder von Bern” or The Miracle of Berne.
A true match of firsts – one of the biggest upsets in World Football, the first time the interchangeable stud boot was used and the first time the German National Anthem was heard in public since, well, you know.
Such a large and positive part in the German national psyche was this victory that a film was made in 2003 but unlike England in later years – this was merely to be a springboard for German dominance, but in a more socially acceptable sporting way.
Guy Bailey is a senior writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.