4 July – Wankdorf Stadium in Bern. West Germany line up against Hungary in the pouring rain in front of 62,500 fans for the start the 1954 World Cup Final.
Hungary arrived at the final having already recorded an 8-3 thumping over West Germany during the group stages, as well as a 9-0 victory against South Korea.
The Hungarians progressed from the groups to set up a 4-2 quarter-final triumph over Brazil. The fixture had been highly anticipated, featuring two of the best sides in world football. It was sadly overcast by the volatile nature of the match; scraps which continued after the full time whistle meant the fixture would go down in history as ‘The Battle of Bern’.
Their 4-2 victory in the semi-finals, over holders Uruguay, was a match that was thankfully remembered for sporting excellence, rather than for off-the-ball antics.
After such an impressive route to the final, including a dominant display against their opponents in the group stages, to say that Hungary walked onto the pitch of the Wankdorf Stadium as firm favourites would perhaps be putting it lightly.
The best team in world football?
The ‘Magnificent Magyars’ heard their national anthem play on the 4 July content in the knowledge that they were the in-form international side of the day. The arrived on the back of a 31 game unbeaten run. A run during which they had become Olympic Gold Medallists, having beaten Yugoslavia 2-0 in Helsinki in 1952.
They hold the record for the longest number of consecutive games in which they scored – 73 matches – to this day. Their goal-scoring tally of the 1954 World Cup finals also remains the record, at 27. This is particularly impressive as they played fewer games then the modern variant of the tournament.
In fact, between June 1950 and November 1955 they scored 220 in 51 games. This included a 12-0 drubbing of Albania in September 1950.
During the build-up to the 1954 tournament they featured in what English newspapers of the time dubbed ‘The Match of the Century.’ A 6-3 thrilling victory against England in front of 105,000 people at Wembley, made Hungary the first nation (outside the British Isles) to beat England on home soil. They were to better this with a convincing 7-1 victory in the reverse fixture in Budapest in 1954.
The success of this magnificent team has been attributed to two main facets of their game: exceptional personnel and implementing ground-breaking tactics.
The goal-scoring pedigree of that team is undeniable. Coming second in the 1960 Ballon d’Or awards, Ferenc Puskaś boasts over 500 goals in domestic appearances, as well as 84 goals in 85 games for his national side. Puskaś, widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, would go on to claim three European Cups, and five league titles with Real Madrid.
For Hungary, he would line up alongside Sándor Kocsis whose record was equally impressive, with 75 goals in 68 games.
Perhaps the most infamous player of the system was, however, Nandor Hidegkuti, with 39 goals in 69 appearances. Hidegkuti is known less for his goals, but more for his role as a deep-lying centre-forward – what we might possibly refer to now as a ‘false nine.’
Playing at a time of more solid, regimented formations, the system that manager Gustav Sebes implemented utilised far more fluidity in the positions, as well as the development of the withdrawn striking position. This system is widely regarded to be the forerunner of the Total Football coined by the Dutch during the 1970s
Hidegkuti in this withdrawn position acted as a transitional point between midfield and attack, allowing him to link the play, in a style that would now be akin to the role of Roberto Firmino at Liverpool. He was also also, clearly, amongst the goals, scoring twice against England at Wembley in 1953.
The fluidity of Sebes’ formation also made them a hard team to break down when in their defensive shape. A formation that on paper would appear to be a 2-3-2-3, utilisied the versatility of the wide players. They would drop back into the full-back position when defending, or fly forward into the attacking line, as the striker withdrew. Sebes referred to his system as ‘Socialist Football’, the idea being that all the players were to work as hard as each other. Whilst this may seem how the game is generally witnessed now, with teams adapting during the game, Sebes is generally accredited to be the first manager to instil this message in his style of play.
Not a perfect ending
Despite the overwhelming odds, the 1954 World Cup Final was not to go the way of the Hungarians.
The ‘Magnificent Magyars’ found themselves 2-0 ahead within eight minutes of the start, only to be pulled back to 2-2 on the 18th minute mark. The rest of the match saw the Germans continually pegged back, with their ‘keeper Toni Turek keeping them in the match.
As we have seen throughout footballing history, with six minutes to go, the team under constant pressure managed to sneak a goal against the run of play – West Germany made it 3-2.
The drama was not over however. Puskas, who had been injured for the Quarter and Semi finals, had his second goal of the final, an equaliser, ruled out for offside. There was to be no reprieve for the favourites. The full time whistle sounded to declare a 3-2 victory for West Germany.
West Germany’s victory has gone down in history as ‘The Miracle of Bern’ perhaps giving an insight into the perceived gulf in class between the two sides going into the match, as well as on the night. Perhaps the greatest comeback in World Cup final history?
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