Miracle of Bern: 1954 World Cup final
“Rahn has to shoot from distance, Rahn shoots…Goal! Goal! ” These were the oh-so-famous words of German commentator Herbert Zimmermann as he described the winning goal at the 1954 FIFA World Cup final held in Bern, Switzerland. To this day, these words send a shiver down the spine of all German football fanatics, and their eyes light up as they reel off the classic commentary.
The World Cup of 1954 was dismissed as a foregone conclusion even before it started. The mighty Hungarians were hands-down favourites, coming into the tournament on the back of a 32 game winning streak which stretched over 5 years. They proved their worth in style by defeating the runners-up from the last tournament, Brazil, and holders Uruguay, on their way to the final. It looked like the final would be a mere formality.
The opponents of the Hungarians in the final were the West Germans. The fact that the German squad had reached the final was a remarkable achievement in itself. To call the final a David vs Goliath encounter would be a huge understatement. The Germans had lost to the same Hungarian side 8-3 in the group stages. One of the most one-sided finals in the history of the World Cup was on the cards.
The match-day was greeted with torrential rain, the type of weather which to this day is referred to as ‘Fritz Walter weather’ in honour of the German captain on that fateful day, who was known to thrive under such conditions.
It took the Magical Magyars only 6 minutes to breach German keeper Toni Turek’s line of defence as the legendary Ferenc Puskas fired in from long-range. 2 minutes later, Zsoltan Czibor was Johnny-on-the-spot to convert after a mix-up between keeper Toni and defender Kohlmeyer. 8 minutes into the final and Hungary were cruising 2-0. A repeat of the group stage drubbing looked inevitable.
“Dismayed, we looked around at each other, but there was no criticism of ‘Kohli’ or Toni. As soon as we got the ball ready 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.”‘ – wrote Fritz Walter in his biography.
True to Ottmar’s words, the Germans began a remarkable comeback. Morlock stretched to poke in after Rahn’s shot was deflected off Boszik on 10 minutes. And 8 minutes later, a corner from Walter flew above the entire Hungarian defence, only for Rahn to finish at the far post. The Hungarians were stunned, the Germans were ecstatic. The 60,000 odd spectators at Bern were witnessing the match of their lifetime.
As the teams went in level at half-time, German coach Herberger egged his boys on – “Lads, you’ve done brilliantly so far. Don’t give them an inch in the second half!” And the team obliged. The Hungarians emerged from the tunnel with fury, forcing goal-line clearances from Kohlmeyer and Posipal soon after the restart. The Germans ran themselves to the ground, getting their body in front of every shot. The rain-sloshed pitch helped the energetic Germans and 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!”
The Hungarians were left fearing the unthinkable. Puskas did manage to put the ball in the back of the net seconds later, but it was ruled offside by English referee William Ling. 60 million Germans were stationed beside their radio sets, glued to Zimmerman’s every word. And finally it arrived – “Over! Over! Over! The match is over! Germany are world champions, beating Hungary 3-2 in the Final in Bern.” Mission impossible was accomplished!
“It still hadn’t sunk in when we 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 after the match. Legends had been born in the previous 90 minutes and one of the most surprising chapters of FIFA World Cup history had been written.
Famous quotes from the German coach like “the ball is round”, “the game lasts for 90 minutes” and “after the game is before the game”, became part of German footballing folklore. The coach himself said after the game – “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.”
4th of July 1954 is a date etched deep in every German heart. It was the day that saw the birth of Germany as footballing powerhouse; the day a bunch of underdogs became legends; the day the ‘Miracle of Bern’ was achieved!