FIFA World Cup moments: The 'Miracle of Bern' that lifted Germany out of post-war misery in 1954
Germany's football went from strength to strength after the Miracle of Bern. As of today, they have 4 World titles to their name. But for Hungary, the march to the final in Bern remains at the epitome of their footballing accolades.
“Aus! Aus! Aus! Aus! Das spiel ist aus!” (Over! Over! Over! Over! The game is over!) These golden words of German radio reporter Herbert Zimmermann are immortal. Its energy changed Germany's fortunes for good. Helmut Rahn's late goal in the final of the 1954 FIFA World Cup — that served as the cause for Zimmermann's incredible on-air cry — was a moment of reincarnation for a nation crippled by the horrors of the Second World War.
4 July 1954. The date was meant to be historic. It was meant to be glorious. Victory was expected, but not on German land. Hungary were ready to celebrate its 'Golden Team' bringing home the nation's first-ever World Cup. The conviction of a Hungarian triumph was so strong that commemorative postage stamps had already been printed, according to FIFA.com
The supreme confidence was well-founded. Hungary had not lost a football match for four years coming into the World Cup in Switzerland. They had trounced the Germans 8-3 early in the competition, and sent defending champions Uruguay, and mighty Brazil packing on their path to the final. The Germans too had been impressive on their road to the final, but many believed they would merely make up the numbers against the strong Hungarian side.
Any doubts about the mammoth task facing the Germans would have vanished when the Hungarians raced to a 2-0 lead inside 10 minutes. Ferenc Puskas and Zoltan Czibor netted to spark early celebrations in Budapest. For Germany, the mountainous task had just become impossible. A repeat of the 8-3 was on the cards. But something within the German players didn't allow the hopes to fade.
Fritz Walter in his biography encapsulated his team's spirit in those moments. "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."
The reward for sustaining their belief in the most hopeless circumstances was instant. In the 10th minute, Rahn produced a shot after making a run from the left-hand side. The effort was deflected by the outstretched leg of a Hungarian defender to fall kindly for Max Morlock who poked the ball into the net with his full-stretched right leg. The Germans were half-way through 'mission impossible'. Hope transpired into belief and in the 18th minute, a corner from Walter was met by Rahn who restored parity for the underdogs.
The pre-match odds were suddenly a thing of the past. The game thereafter turned out to be an end-to-end affair with both teams having their share of chances. Hungary turned the screws at the start of the second half, but the energetic Germans, aided by rainfall that made the pitch heavy, matched the Hungarians blow to blow. Two goal-line clearances helped the Germans take the game to the wire, where the golden moment in the history of these nations lay in waiting.
In the 84th minute, Germany's Schafer won the ball in a slightly advanced area of the field. He immediately sent a cross into the heart of the Hungarian defence which was partially cleared. The loose ball fell to Rahn who shifted it onto his left foot and sent a low shot into the bottom corner.
“Drei zu zwei fuhrt Deutschland! Halten Sie mich fur verruckt! Halten Sie mich fur ubergeschnappt!” (3-2 to Germany. Call me mad! Call me crazy!) exclaimed Zimmermann. The unlikeliest of victories was in sight. The remaining six minutes went on to be the longest in German football's history. After conceding, Hungary had the ball in the German net in the very next minute, but much to the German's relief, the offside flag came to the rescue. German goalkeeper Toni Turek earned his bread in the dying minutes to hand Germany their first-ever World Cup title.
German football went from strength to strength from that moment. As of today, they have 4 World titles to their name. But for Hungary, the march to the final in Bern remains at the peak of their footballing accolades. Forward Tibor Nyilasi told Jonathan Wilson in his book Beyond the Curtain: “It is as though Hungarian football is frozen at that moment, as though we have never quite moved on from then,” according to a special piece in The Guardian
Meanwhile, German historian Joachim Fest termed the 'Miracle of Bern' the “true birth of the country,” and the following line in Uli Hesse's Tor! The Story of German Football aptly captures the significance of the 1954 World Cup triumph.
“Gerd Müller’s winner against Holland in 1974 is basically just a goal, as is Andreas Brehme’s penalty against Argentina in 1990, but Rahn’s left-footed shot on that rainy summer day in Switzerland is something else entirely.”
To read about other FIFA World Cup moments, click here.
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