On this day, 4 July 1954 (Exactly 65 years ago), Helmut Rahn scored twice as West Germany beat Hungary 3-2 to win their first FIFA World Cup title in a match dubbed “The Miracle of Berne”. Hungary had destroyed West Germany 8-3 in the group stage.
When captain Fritz Walter, Helmut Rahn, Max Morlock and the rest of the Germany team stepped out onto the turf at the Wankdorf Stadion in Berne at 16.45 on 4 July 1954, little did they know that they were about to make football history.
“It still hadn’t sunk in when we were stood together listening to the national anthem afterwards. We were all holding hands, such was the deep friendship throughout the entire squad,” said German defender Jupp Posipal on the minutes which followed the momentous 3-2 victory over highly fancied Hungary in the 1954 FIFA World Cup Tournament Final.
Heroes had been born over the previous 90 minutes and the ‘Miracle of Bern’ had just produced one of the most surprising chapters in World Cup history. Das Wunder von Bern – a phrase that will forever be synonymous with German football. Never has there been another football match with so many legends and stories attached as the Switzerland 1954 Final between West Germany and Hungary.
Famous quotes from then Germany coach Sepp Herberger such as “the ball is round”, “the game lasts for 90 minutes” and “after the game is before the game” have lasted long in the memory.
Though whether the World Cup-winning coach actually coined the phrases himself, or whether, as rumour has it, he picked up the legendary lines from a cleaner at his squad’s training camp, remains a secret.
Try asking a German football fan about Helmut Rahn’s decisive goal in the 1954 final and see how their eyes light up with enthusiasm as they reel off the classic commentary: “Rahn has to shoot from distance, Rahn shoots… Goal! Goal! Goal! Germany are world champions!” They are of course the famous words of German radio reporter Herbert Zimmermann, and to this day they still send a shiver down the spine of every fan from the German-speaking world.
Setting the scene
Describing the 1954 Final as a David versus Goliath affair would probably be an understatement. The fact that the Germans had even managed to reach the decider was a remarkable achievement in itself.
Herberger’s side had only played their first post-war international four years earlier as they went into their third world finals. Four victories against Turkey (4-1 and 7-2), Yugoslavia (2-0) and Austria (6-1) and a predictable 8-3 group stage hammering by the Hungarians were enough to see the Germans through to the Final.
The story was quite different for Hungary, who arrived in Switzerland full of confidence having not lost a single match since 14 May 1950.
The Magical Magyars’ route to the decider included romping group stage victories over Turkey (7-0) and of course the Germans, as well as wins against Brazil (4-2) and Uruguay (4-2 aet) in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.
The ‘Golden Team’s’ maiden World Cup triumph appeared to be a foregone conclusion.
Indeed, the Hungarian delegation in Switzerland had already arranged a reception for the players, dignitaries and journalists for the day after the competition’s conclusion.
Back home, commemorative postage stamps had already been printed, while the foundations for 17 life-size statues of the squad had been put into place. Nobody seriously doubted that the Hungarians were about to pick up their first World Cup Trophy. How wrong they were …
The first few rain-soaked minutes of the Final gave the Hungarians’ added cause for optimism, while Herberger’s troops looked set for a second drubbing by the side hailed as the best in the world at the time.
With just six minutes gone, star man Ferenc Puskas put his country in front with a long-range strike before Zsoltan Czibor took advantage of a mix-up between Germany goalkeeper Toni Turek and defender Werner Kohlmeyer to add a second two minutes later.
Nonetheless, the spirit of the German team remained intact, as revealed by Walter in a biography released years later: “Dismayed, we looked around at each other, but there was no criticism of ‘Kohli’ or Toni. As soon as we got the ball ready to for the restart, Max Morlock did his best to rally the troops.
“It doesn’t matter”, he cried. Ottmar [Walter], who also hadn’t yet given up hope, whispered to me: “Fritz, keep going, we can still do this
It did not take long for the Germans to respond. Rahn made his way down the left hand side. His shot was deflected away by Boszik, but Max Morlock stretched to poke the ball past Hungarian goalkeeper Grosics. It was 2-1 with 80 minutes still to play.
The Germans’ belief came flooding back and told just minutes later as a corner from captain Walter sailed over the entire Hungarian defence for Rahn to apply the finish at the far post and secure the equaliser on 18 minutes.
A true end-to-end battle ensued with the rain making the pitch soft and heavy, playing into the hands of the energetic Germans. Indeed, the term ‘Fritz Walter weather’ is still used to this day whenever heavy rainfall turns the pitch into a swamp.
“Lads, you’ve done brilliantly so far. Don’t give them an inch in the second half,” were the words of encouragement coach Herberger gave his charges during the half-time break.
The Hungarians re-emerged from the tunnel with fury and began with a brand of power football which forced both Posipal and Kohlmeyer into goalline clearances soon after the restart.
The two goalscorers, Puskas and Czibor, as well as centre forward Nandor Hidegkuti, were a constant threat in the box, but the Germans ran themselves into the ground, flinging themselves in front of every shot.
And then, in the 84th minute, the unbelievable happened. “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!”
Seconds later and the ball was in the net at the other end, only this time the English referee, William Ling, ruled Puskas’ strike out for offside. Around 60 million Germans remained perched anxiously beside their radio sets, hanging on to Zimmermann’s every word.
There were just a few minutes left until the words they had been longing for finally arrived: “Over! Over! Over! The match is over! Germany are world champions, beating Hungary 3-2 in the Final in Bern, the miracle was complete.
With two goals in the Final, Helmut ‘Boss’ Rahn became the hero of the 1954 World Cup. His late winner remains arguably the most famous goal that a German has ever scored, including Gerd Muller’s decisive strike in the 1974 decider and Andreas Brehme’s winning penalty in the Final of Italy 1990.
“I prefer to keep a certain distance from the success. It’s a fantastic feeling when a team pays back your faith in them with a performance like that. It was a wonderful experience.”
Sepp Herberger, West Germany coach
What happened next
For Germany, the 1954 was the beginning of a long history of success. The Hungarians, meanwhile, never reached reached those heights again.
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STORY: GEORGE MAHAMAH