The Making Of A Miracle – Rise Of The West Germans: Hungary & the 1954 World Cup (Part Four)

Some losses can never be overcome and some victories are bigger than they seem at the time. No two teams in the history of international football represent these two extremes better than Hungary and West Germany in the wake of their 1954 World Cup championship match. The legendary magic of the Magyars ran out in a stinging 3-2 defeat to West Germany in the 1954 World Cup Final in Berne, Switzerland. This loss sent Hungarian football into a death spiral from which it has never really recovered, while the victory boosted West Germany’s national self-confidence and propelled their national team into the top tier of world football for decades to come.

A ticket to a miracle - 1954 World Cup final ticket

A ticket to a miracle – 1954 World Cup final ticket

A Miracle Made From A Matchup – Final Reckoning
Hungary came into the final heavily favored with an unbeaten streak of 32 games. The Golden Team as they were known had defeated both the 1950 World Cup finalist (Brazil) and champion (Uruguay) in the previous two rounds and scored at least four goals in every game. Their only real shortcoming concerned the defense, which had allowed seven goals in five games. Still, this total was less than the eight goals they had scored in trouncing West Germany earlier in the group round. Conversely, the West Germans came without any great expectations of success. This was the first major international sporting tournament they had been allowed to compete in since the end of World War II. West Germany had not been allowed to field teams in either of the two post-war Olympic Games nor the 1950 World Cup. Even their 1954 World Cup squad could not choose players from all of western Germany. Saarland – a region that included the Saar River valley and its tributaries in southwestern Germany along the border with France – had fielded its own national team which failed to qualify.

In the group round, West Germany’s play was unexceptional, but during the knockout rounds they stepped up their game. First was a shut out of Yugoslavia, then a convincing 6-1 victory over a strong Austrian team in the semifinals. This meant they would once again face Hungary. The West Germans fielded a very different team in the final from the one Hungary had shellacked earlier in group play. Their coach Sepp Herberger had not used several of his best players in that match, relying on reserves instead. He changed out six different players for the final. Many also believe the West Germans had given less than their best effort in the group round loss. It was a masterful strategy, because it lulled the Hungarians into a false sense of superiority.

Captains before the kickoff - Fritz Walter and Ferenc Puskas with referee William Ling

Captains before the kickoff – Fritz Walter and Ferenc Puskas with referee William Ling

A Matter of Minutes –  Shattering Confidence
The West German strategy was almost derailed by their dreadful start in the final. It was only matched by the awful weather in Berne on that memorable day. A drenching rain soaked the sod, making the field soft and muddy. This did little to stop Hungary from opening with their usual display of offensive firepower. In the sixth minute a shot by Sandor Kocsis hit a West German defender, the ball then found its way to the half-fit and hobbled Ferenc Puskas who hammered home a left footed shot. A mere two minutes later the West German goalie Toni Turek mishandled a back pass. The ball suddenly came into the possession of Zoltan Czibor who drove it in for Hungary’s second goal. No one knew it at the time, but it would also turn out to be their last. At this point the West Germans looked done. They were actually in a worse position score-wise than in their earlier match with Hungary. In that game Hungary did not take a 2-0 lead until the 17th minute. The difference this time was that the West Germans fielded a much better team. They proved that a two goal deficit was just a temporary obstacle.

The West Germans managed to shatter Hungarian confidence in a matter of minutes. The period of the match from the 10th through the 16th minute was transformative. First the West Germans enjoyed a fortuitous stroke of luck when a centered ball was deflected by a Hungarian defender toward Max Morlock, who was able to stretch out and stab it into the goal. Then just six minutes later a corner kick by Fritz Walter escaped the grasp of the Hungarian goalie Gyula Grosics. The ball made its way to Helmut Rahm who knocked it in to tie the game. The Hungarian lead had evaporated. The West Germans had showed grit and determination. For the first time, the match was bending to their will. They now had their feet under them, figuratively and quite literally. This was due to the football boots they wore, developed by Adi Dassler, the man who founded and gave his name to the sporting goods firm Adidas. The boots had screw-in studs that allowed the West German players much better traction on the drenched turf. They were surer of foot while the Hungarians slipped and slid about on a muddy field which only got worse as the match progressed. Their usually powerful offense got bogged down in this quagmire.

Max Morelock stretches out to score the West Germans first goal

Max Morelock stretches out to score the West Germans first goal (Credit: DPA/Press Association)

A Grinding Match In The Mud – Grinding To A Half
A closely fought, tense match now ensued. The Hungarians did their best to press the offensive. The German defense held, but just barely. This was partly due to the magnificent play of the goalie Turek. He made one of his most memorable saves when he stopped an excellent shot from the Golden Head of Sandor Kocsis. One of the few times Turek was beaten, the goal post provided an extra defense as it denied a shot from Nandor Hidegkuti. Then it was the Germans turn, as they besieged the Hungarian goal for an extended onslaught. Despite several openings, their efforts came to naught. The first half ended in a 2-2 tie. What had started out as a rout, was now a hard fought match among equals. The final had turned into a contest of will more than style, a defensive battle rather than an offensive assault, a grinding match in the mud that had become a test of strength and stamina. All of these developments favored the Germans and consequently, a miracle upset.

Click here for: A Strange, Schizophrenic Quality – German Restoration & Hungarian Devastation: Hungary’s 1954 World Cup (Part Five)

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