This week ESPN FC is counting down, in chronological order, 10 of the greatest World Cup matches. Second on the list is one of the finest finals ever seen.
The 1954 final has gone down in history as “The Miracle of Bern,” a match that saw West Germany -- distinct outsiders for the tournament -- stun the football world by defeating the legendary Hungarian side that had thrashed them 8-3 during the group stage.
Its status as a miracle comes with caveats. That 8-3 victory had been against a second-string German side, with coach Sepp Herberger seeing fit to rest his key men in preparation for a group playoff with Turkey three days later. Furthermore, Hungary forward Ferenc Puskas, the most magical of the Magyars, had injured his ankle following a foul 20 minutes from the end of that game, and many felt he was still carrying its effects when he returned for the final. In addition, West Germany’s standing in the sport at the time was perhaps artificially low; they achieved a 6-1 win over neighbours Austria in the semifinals despite a prematch belief that they were underdogs.
Nonetheless, this was a remarkable result, all the more so for the fact the Germans had found themselves 2-0 down with eight minutes played. Amid heavy rain, Puskas fired in the opener on six minutes when a deflection fell kindly, and two minutes later Zoltan Czibor took advantage of a defensive mix-up to extend the advantage.
Within 10 minutes, though, the underdogs had drawn level, Max Morlock stretching to poke a deflected cross over the line for their first and Helmut Rahn then turning home at the far post after goalkeeper Gyula Grosics collided with Hans Schaefer when attempting to collect a corner.
Hungary produced a response, but their attacks were repelled by the woodwork, goal-line clearances and goalkeeper Toni Turek, who bounced back from the Czibor goal to turn in the performance of his life, including a truly astonishing save from Nandor Hidegkuti on 24 minutes.
Then, with the match in the 84th minute, Rahn collected the ball on the edge of the area, made space to shoot and then fired the Germans ahead for the first time, prompting Herbert Zimmerman’s famous radio commentary announcing the goal: "TOOOOOR! TOOOOOR! TOOOOOR! TOOOOOR!"
It may have all been different: Puskas turned the ball into Turek’s net a second time soon afterwards, but the linesman controversially flagged for offside. One of the sport’s greatest ever teams had been denied their crowning glory, and England’s Times newspaper called it “one of the most dramatic and certainly one of the most surprising finals in the whole history of the World Cup,” adding: “No one, using pure logic, could have foreseen anything but a Hungarian victory.”
The result prompted angry protests back in Budapest, directed predominantly at coach Gusztav Sebes, whose preparations for the game bordered on the complacent, and Puskas, who had insisted on playing despite lacking full fitness, replacing his apparent personal rival Laszlo Budai, who had excelled in the semifinal success over Uruguay.
Puskas, for his part, accused the Germans of doping in France Football and, though he retracted the remarks before the 1960 European Cup final, a recent study has alleged that the players may have been injected with methamphetamine.
Regardless, West Germany’s hard-fought triumph was significant in the country’s rehabilitation following World War II, and the victory is associated with a phrase that signals German rebirth: “We are somebody again.”