Top 100 World Cup Moments (From the Aussie P.O.V.): 11-The Miracle of Berne (1954)


Hungary has been kicked while down on the ground a few times but apart from the tanks rolling in to Budapest, Australian companies poisoning their fish and occupation every now and then, the Miracle of Berne would be one of their greatest tragedies and a wonderful moment for West Germany. The Hungarian side pre-1950 weren’t much at all, in fact they never even bothered trying to qualify for the 1950 cup with the country having it’s own issues post World War 2. In May 1950 they began a streak that has never been surpassed by any international side of 46 wins, 6 draws and 1 loss.

Coached by Gustav Sebes, playing a 4-2-4 and featuring unbelievable talent like Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hidegkuti and the legendary Ferenc Puskas they beat England at Wembley stadium (the first time England had ever lost at the famous venue) amongst other high profile scalps. There was also the matter of winning the 1952 gold medal with the same side (many communist countries had amateur players), they were one of the great international sides and the highest ranked team ever on the ELO ratings leading in to the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland.

They were the ‘Mighty Maygars’ and not be messed with.

In the first round they showed what muscle they had in quite strong circumstances. They first thrashed debutants South Korea 9-0, five different scorers with a hat trick and double from a player each. Next up was West Germany who were also recovering from the war and hadn’t set the world alight with a team in the World Cup…yet. They would be battered by Hungary 8-3, the match being 8-1 up until the last 10 minutes. The shellackings would continue in to the quarter finals with the Battle of Berne against Brazil and then a win over Uruguay 4-2 to knock the reigning champions out. This was all done with Puskas missing from the knockout stage with an injury.

West Germany beat Turkey in their first game but after taking a beating from Hungary they managed to beat Yugoslavia in the quarter finals and then beat the fancied Austria 6-1 in a massive result to set up the final with Hungary, West Germany had seemingly won the battle to finish runner up to one of the great sides in the final. Over 60,000 people were shoehorned in to the Wankdorf Stadium in Berne for the final where it was expected the Hungary would win. Hungary were out of the blocks early (a tactics of theirs) and were 2-0 up thanks to a half-fit Puskas (who was back in the side) and Czibor.

West Germany though fought back to 2-2 and had done it by the 18th minute with goals from Max Morlock and Bayern Munich striker Helmut ‘The Boss’ Rahn. The Germans had done their homework this time around. Coach Seep Herberger had the team train in the pouring rain just in case it would pour down during the final (it would) whilst Adidas provided the side with the first boots that had screw in or molded studs for the wet conditions. Hungary would just overpower a side they had beaten just a week or so before and claim the cup that was rightfully theirs it was thought. West Germany had their tails up and were digging in, not letting the flowing front four of Hungary get a sniff.

Then it happened, with the minute ticking down and extra time looking likely for the first time in the history of the cup Rahn then unchained his inner hero, cut to the left, and filled the back of the Hungarian net in the 86th minute, hardly enough time for the world to believe what had just happened. West Germany 3-2! Hungary were suddenly sparked in to action and were all over the Germans. Puskas was put through! Puskas slotted the ball home! Puskas scored! 3-3! No! Flag! Offside! Still 3-2! This was a decision that was highly controversial with the linesman raising his flag for an age after the play to Puskas. Puskas up until his death was still bitter about the decision and claims it cost Hungary the World Cup.

In injury time the desperate Germans defended like never before and took out Kocsis as he went for a shot, no penalty given and it stayed 3-2. The referee blew full time and West Germany had come from nowhere to win the World Cup for the first time, captain and wet weather specialist Fritz Walter hoisting the cup. One of the greatest sides to every play had ended up with nothing but bitterness and regrets from the tournament thanks to German smarts, bad luck and a dodgy ref/linesman combo. The win was something that revitalised a nation that was still getting over being decimated by the allies some 10 years previously, hence the term ‘Miracle of Berne’.

Many German historians see this upset win over Hungary as the turning point of getting the country back on track. It was also the first time the German national anthem had been played since the war. With hardly any television in West Germany at the time the radio commentary from Hubert Zimmerman is seen as an iconic moment, it wasn’t exactly Craig Foster’s yelling against Uruguay  but his emotion when the winning goal went in and at the final whistle is stuff of legend.

For the Hungarians they would never reach these heights again with the Soviet tanks rolling in a couple of years later and most of their great players defecting for pastures greener (Puskas would play for Spain in later years). They have still not made a World Cup since 1986. Puskas would also coach South Melbourne in the NSL for a short time. Rarely has a World Cup win inspired a country and seen as a turning point for not just football fortunes but those of the people and everyday life. It was for both West Germany (good) and Hungary (bad) a pivotal moment in history with the Miracle of Berne being a memorable moment. Hell, it was even made in to a movie!

About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.

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