Thursday 14 April 2016, 09:52

The moments before the Miracle

Faced with two of the era’s true greats, and with the 1954 FIFA World Cup™ Final just seconds away, this bank of photographers must have been tingling with anticipation.

Yet as their shutters clicked, capturing Ferenc Puskas and Fritz Walter – the inspirational captains of Hungary and West Germany – few among them would have dared predict the thrills and spills that lay in store. And fewer still would have predicted the outcome.

No-one, after all, anticipated this final – remembered as arguably the greatest in World Cup history – becoming ‘Das Wunder von Bern’ (‘The Miracle of Bern’). Instead, it was expected to represent the routine coronation of a seemingly unstoppable Hungary team that, earlier in this same competition, had hammered their Final opponents 8-3. Indeed, it was later reported that, of the 40 journalists present and asked for a prediction pre-match, only one had been brave or foolhardy enough to predict a German win.

Nothing in the early stages suggested a deviation from the expected script either, with Hungary racing into a 2-0 lead inside eight minutes. Puskas was the predictable source of the opener, while Zsoltan Czibor rubbed salt in German wounds soon after by capitalising on a mix-up between Werner Kohlmeyer and keeper Toni Turek. Game over, it appeared.

But Sepp Herberger’s team weren’t ready to succumb to the seemingly inevitable. Within a couple of minutes, Max Morlock had halved the deficit and, amid steady rain – known as ‘Fritz Walter weather’ due to the skipper’s preference for such conditions – the now-famous German spirit slowly came to the fore. Just 18 minutes were on the clock when Walter’s corner sailed over the Hungarian defence to set up Helmut Rahn for the equaliser, and Rahn himself became an instant hero when he capped the unlikeliest of comebacks with a stunning late winner.

For the victors, and a nation still reeling from the Second World War and its consequences, the win was transformative. "Suddenly Germany was somebody again,” recalled Franz Beckenbauer. “For anybody who grew up in the misery of the post-war years, Bern was an extraordinary inspiration. The entire country regained its self-esteem."

Did you know? The FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich boasts several unique items from the 1954 World Cup, including the original goal net from the Final and a ticket for this unforgettable match.