In 1950 Germany was in a mess. The war-torn country was still trying to pick itself up following World War II. Football was slowly re-emerging in the late 1940s, but it took until 1950 for the German football structure to be fully functional, domestically and internationally.
The German football association, DFB, officially re-formed on January 21st 1950 announcing Sepp Herberger as coach which later led to FIFA allowing West Germany to re-join the world game in September, with them playing their first post-war match against Switzerland. In just four years’ time they would make history.
Domestic football was becoming more popular by fans who enjoyed the Oberligen, which was split into four areas; Berlin, North, South, West which saw each regional winner compete for the national championship. International football wasn’t as pleasing for fans or media alike with Herberger under pressure in 1952 as West Germany failed to impress against other nations.
Come 1954 the situation hadn’t dramatically changed with Herberger’s side only just reaching the World beating Saarland in their final qualification match to secure their progression. Furthermore, the Kaiserslautern side that made up a huge proportion of the West Germany team were comprehensively beaten 5-1 by Hannover 96 in the 1954 championship final. The fans were unhappy and restless going into the World Cup that summer.
West Germany’s World Cup camp was in Spiez on Lake Thun. From here they prepared to face the two seeded teams in their group, Turkey and Hungary, the majestic brilliant Hungary side which had recently humiliated England 7-1. South Korea were the other non-seeded team who were brushed aside with ease by both Turkey and Hungary. West Germany therefore knew they had to beat Turkey in their opening match to stand any chance of progressing in the tournament. Despite going a goal down in the second minute, West Germany came back to win 4-1.
Herberger knew there was no chance of beating Hungary in their second match so fielded a reserve side to rest key players ahead of the play-off match versus Turkey (If second and third were level on points then a play-off was used to decide who progressed.) West Germany were thrashed 8-3, but that was just part of the story. The fabulous Ferenc Puskás was injured by German defender Werner Liebrich and missed Hungary’s next two matches. While for West Germany right winger Helmut Rahn impressed.
To the decider. West Germany faced Turkey once more. They won 7-2 as Max Morlock scored a hat-trick. Yugoslavia were next in the quarter-final. An early own goal set West Germany on their way to a 2-0 victory.
Back home fans and media were completely shocked and surprised as West Germany had made it to the semi-final where they met neighbours Austria. West Germany were in a different class as they comfortably defeated the Austrians 6-1. Unbelievably West Germany, whose association had re-formed only four years previously, whose team struggled in the World Cup qualification, were in the World Cup final.
The opposition? Hungary of course.
On July 4th 1954 a summer’s day gave way to rain. This was important to West Germany as their star player Fritz Walter loved playing in rain; in Germany they call it ‘Fritz Walter weather’. Also because German preparation was sound as Adi Dassler, the man who created adidas, had a revolutionary boot with changeable studs. On the wet, muddy pitch in Bern the players just added a longer stud.
Puskás was back in the final despite people debating whether he was fit during the match. He seemed to play without pain and opened the scoring at the Wankdorf Stadium after just six minutes. Two minutes later and the 60,000 attendance erupted once more as Zoltán Czibor capitalised on a defensive mix up between Werner Kohlmeyer and goalkeeper Toni Turek to put Hungary 2-0 ahead.
One of Herberger’s most famous saying was “the ball is round” meaning anything in football is possible. Indeed, the impossible was about to be made possible.
In the tenth minute Morlock poked in Rahn’s cross-shot and West Germany were back in the match. Eight minutes later Rahn, unmarked at the back post from a corner, equalised.
The match was contested strongly throughout and despite Hungarian pressure at the start of the second half, they couldn’t find that elusive goal. Through some last ditch defending and some superb goalkeeping, West Germany remained in the match. The Germans took heart from this and with six minutes left to play one of the greatest ever goals in German football was scored.
Rahn got the ball just outside the penalty area before he cut in on his left foot and rifled in a low left footed shot within the area that flew into the bottom corner.
“Rahn schiesst, Tor! Tor! Tor! Tor!” shouted German radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann who became a national legend that day with his emotional coverage.
West Germany were winning in the World Cup final against Hungary. But the match wasn’t finished yet as immediately after scoring Hungary had the ball in the back of the net. Puskás’ goal though was flagged for offside, a decision debated still, but with limited camera angles it is hard to tell.
Zimmermann then screamed “Das Spiel ist aus!” The match is over!
West Germany had unbelievably won the World Cup. Remarkably it was they who would be holding aloft the Jules Rimet trophy. The ‘Miracle of Bern’.
Was this real? How had this happened? Amazingly, and unexpectedly, one of the most incredible World Cup victories had occurred. Still to this day, 60 years on, it remains a truly stunning feat that galvanised a nation and spread hope of a brighter future.
The ‘Miracle of Bern’ has now been turned into a musical and a feature film.