The World Cup of 1954 took place in Switzerland, home of F.I.F.A. It was the 50th anniversary of world football’s governing body. The Federation of International Football Associations was founded in Paris, during the May of 1904. It was only the second tournament since the end of the war, and F.I.F.A. were eager to make the most of it with anniversary celebrations before and during the tournament. As the host nation Switzerland automatically qualified, as did Juan López’s Uruguay who qualified as defending champions. For their own qualification, West Germany were drawn into U.E.F.A. Group One, along with Norway and Saar. Saar was the national football team of Saarland, which today is a part of the German nation.
However, back in the mid-20th century it was an area occupied by the French and following the end of the Second World War, it was officially known as the Saar Protectorate. It was in 1948 that the Saarländischer Fußballbund was established, an Olympic association was also founded which resulted in Saarland taking a team to the 1952 summer Olympics. The main reason for these sporting bodies being set up was that the people of Saarland didn’t want to be a part of France, they were German after all. Lead by team manager Sepp Herberger, West Germany enjoyed a short trouble free qualifying campaign which began in the August of 1953 with a 1 – 1 draw against Norway at the Ullevaal stadium in Oslo, the German goal being scored by Fritz Walter of Kaiserslautern.
West Germany’s next qualifying fixture was a home game against Saar the following October, the Germans ran out comfortable winners with a 3 – 0 score line. Just over a month later West Germany hosted Norway in Hamburg, Herberger’s men thrashed the Norwegians 5 – 0. West Germany’s final game of the qualifying campaign was in the late March of 1954 against Saar in Saarbrucken, not surprisingly the Germans emerged as the victors courtesy of a 3 – 1 score line. West Germany topped the three team group with seven points, therefore successfully qualifying for the World Cup in Switzerland.
Team manager Herberger took a twenty two man squad to Switzerland. The three goal keepers in the squad were Heinz Kubsch of F.K. Primasens, Toni Turek of Fortuna Düsseldorf and Heinz Kwiatkowski of Borussia Dortmund. The defensive contingent was made up of Herbert Erhardt of SpVgg Greuther Fürth, Fritz Laband of S.V. Hamburg, Werner Kohlmever of Kaiserslautern, Hans Bauer of Bayern Munich, Josef Posipal of S.V. Hamburg and Werner Liebrich of Kaiserslautern.
The midfielders in the squad were Horst Eckel of Kaiserslautern, Karl Mai of SpVgg Greuther Fürth, Paul Mebus of F.C. Cologne, Karl Heinz Metzner of K.S.V. Hessen Kassel and Alfred Pfaff of Eintracht Frankfurt. The forwards were team captain Fritz Walter of Kaiserslautern, Helmut Rahn of Rot Weiss Essen, Max Morlock of F.C. Nuremberg, Bernhard Klodt of F.C. Schalke, Richard Herrman of F.S.V. Frankfurt, Ottmar Walter (the brother of Fritz) of Kaiserslautern, Ulrich Beisinger of B.C. Augsburg and Hans Schäfer of F.C. Cologne.
Sixteen teams would take part in the World Cup tournament of 1954, West Germany an unseeded team would begin their tournament in Group Two. In that group alongside the West Germans were Hungary, South Korea and Turkey. Incidentally the seeded teams for the tournament were Hungary, Austria, England, France, Brazil, Uruguay, Italy and Spain. The format of the groups back then were somewhat different to what we know today, back then each team would only play two others in the group, with a play-off game being played if needed. The first game for the West Germans was against Turkey at the brilliantly named Wankdorf stadium, in Berne on the 17th of June.
The 28,000 crowd didn’t have to wait long for the first goal, the Turks took the lead in the second minute. After that though, it was all West Germany. When the Portuguese referee blew for full time the final score was West Germany 4 Turkey 1. However, three days it was the Germans turn to be turned over. They met Hungary at the St Jakob stadium in Basel. As most people know, that Hungarian team of the mid 1950’s was really something else. It was the team that included such legendary Budapest Honvéd players as Ferenc Puskás and Sándor Kocsis.
West German team manager Sepp Herrberger decided, with reasons only known to himself, to field a reserve team against Hungary. It wasn’t a wise decision, the West Germans were hammered 8 – 3, the Magyars putting on quite a show for the 56,000 crowd. The group finished with both West Germany and Turkey on two points each, so that play-off game I mentioned was indeed to see which team would progress along with the Hungarians. The Germans didn’t have much time to lick their wounds. That play-off game was to take place only three days later, they would meet Turkey at the Hardturm stadium in Zurich.
A small crowd of 17,000 saw West Germany take out their frustration out on the hapless Turks. The final score was 7 – 2, it was a game which saw Max Morlock claim a hat trick. So West Germany were through to the quarter finals, and there they would face Yugoslavia at the Charmilles Stadium in Geneva. Lady Luck was smiling upon the West Germans, they found themselves 1 – 0 up in the ninth minute thanks to own goal by Ivica Horvat. It stayed that way until the eighty fifth minute when Helmut Rahn made it 2 – 0 to West Germany, they were in the semi’s.
For their semifinal West Germany would return to the St Jakob in Basel, for a meeting with neighbours Austria. The West Germans were now in fine form, that 8 – 3 hammering they received from Hungary now a distant memory. Having inflicted a heavy defeat upon the Turks, it was now Austria’s turn for a walloping from the West Germans. West Germany ran out 6 – 1 winners thanks to goals from Max Morlock, Hans Schäfer with Fritz Walter and his brother Ottmar scoring a couple each. Erich Probst of Rapid Vienna scored the single consolation goal for Austria.
In the final they would play Hungary, the team they had met earlier in the tournament, the team that had battered that below par West German team 8 – 3. However, this time Herberger had no intention of fielding a weakened team. One of the most notable things about that final was the weather, it was throwing it down with rain. Interestingly during the tournament, the German sportswear company Adidas had supplied the West German team with a new design of football boot with screw in studs, this was the first time that such a boot was used at a major tournament.
The final was played at the Wankdorf stadium in Berne, yet despite West Germany’s free scoring form it was Hungary who were the favourites to lift the trophy. 64,000 fans filled the stadium for the final to be officiated by Englishman, William Ling. Only ten minutes into the final and the crowd had witnessed three goals, two from Hungary and one from the West Germans. Hungarian team captain Ferenc Puskás opened the scoring in the sixth minute, two minutes later Zoltán Czibor made it 2 – 0 to the Hungarians. A further two minutes after that and Max Morlock pulled one back for West Germany. it was turning into a great final.
Another goal was to come in the opening stages of the final, Helmut Rahn gained parity for the West Germans in the eighteenth minute. It stayed like that until half time. The second half was just as entertaining as the first, not as many goals but the crowd saw both teams going for it. The deciding goal came with only six minutes of the match remaining, it came from the boot of Helmut Rahn, it was West Germany 3 Hungary 2 with only minutes left. Hungary tried to rally and indeed Puskás, the Hungarian talisman, found the West German net however the Ben Griffiths the linesman from Wales ruled it offside.
The game finished in a first World Cup tournament win for West Germany, a World Cup final remains one of the biggest upsets in world football, going down in history as the miracle of Berne. The final didn’t escape controversy, with the dust yet to settle on the final there were accusations of doping. The fact that a number of the West German players fell ill with jaundice provided quite the smoking gun. The West Germans claimed their team had only been given injections of glucose.