For many, the 1954 World Cup is seen as one of the greatest ever. It was the first one to have matches televised live and had more goals per game than any other. There were some classic matches and a memorable final, which contained a late twist.
Switzerland won the vote to host this tournament, at the same time Brazil got the nod for the 1950 edition. Post-War international football was still finding its feet. West Germany, East Germany and Japan had been banned up to now. Many countries were still re-stocking their playing assets as they’d lost so many young men in the War.
Uruguay were the defending champions after their shock win in Brazil. Brazil had entered that tournament expending to win, and were desperate to match the achievement of their nearest rivals, but the defeat to Uruguay hit them hard. This was the first World Cup Uruguay had competed in outside their continent.
The overwhelming favourites were Hungary. ‘The Mighty Magyars’ were one of the best sides ever assembled. Going into the tournament unbeaten in 28 matches, including the game which shook the world. In 1953 they became the first side outside the British Isles to win at Wembley when they gave England a footballing lesson in a 6-3 thrashing. Then just months before the World Cup ,they stuffed them 7-1 in Budapest. The world was taking notice. They were lead by the best player in the world at the time, Ferenc Puskas.
European teams dominated FIFA competitions at this time. Eleven of the sixteen qualifying places would be available to them, plus the hosts. Two places were available for ‘The Americas’ with just one place available to sides from Asia.
In Europe, just 27 nations took part yet were split into 10 groups. The British Home International Championship formed one of the qualifying groups, with the top two going through. Three groups just contained two teams, which made a mockery of things- some teams had to play four matches to go through, whereas others just two. But nothing was as pointless as the group Hungary were in. They were supposed to be up against Poland and Iceland. But Iceland had their entry rejected and Poland withdrew, so the Hungarians qualified without even kicking a ball.
England won all three of their matches, hitting four past both Wales and Scotland. Scotland finished second, thanks to their win in Belfast. Four years earlier Scotland qualified for the finals, but the SFA had already decreed they would only travel to Brazil if they won the Home Championships. They finished second and despite protests from the players, the SFA stood by their decree and sent them on a tour to North America.
France were top scorers, banging in 20 goals in their four matches in a group that included the Republic of Ireland. Austria booked their place in their first match. They thumped Portugal 9-1, to make the reverse fixture fairly meaningless. It ended 0-0. Italy saw off Egypt, winning both matches. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, West Germany, Belgium also made the trip.
The strangest occurrence came in Group Six, where Spain and Turkey competed against each other. Spain won the first meeting, 4-1 in Madrid. Turkey won the return fixture, 1-0. FIFA had decided that if two teams were level on points, a play-off would decide things. A neutral venue of the Stadio Olimpico in Rome was chosen to host the match. Spain scored first, but Turkey were 2-1 up midway through the second half. Spain equalised and even extra time couldn’t separate the teams.
These days penalties would decide the outcome, but back then the drawing of lots was the favoured solution. So, a 14-year old boy picked out Turkey and that’s how they made it through.
In the South American section, there were only three countries that took part. Brazil won all four matches and easily qualified.
Much was the case in North America as just three nations took part. Mexico won their four matches scoring 19 goals.
In Asia, just South Korea and Japan competed. South Korea won the first match, 5-1 and drew the second. Oddly, both matches were played in Tokyo.
There was no African qualification.
The sixteen teams to take part were, Switzerland (hosts), Uruguay (holders), Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, England, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Scotland, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, West Germany and Yugoslavia.
Remember these were still early days for FIFA tournaments. There were still countries who hadn’t fully embraced the concept and for whom travel was still expensive. The governing body was mainly centred around a few big nations and very Euro-centric. The previous tournament had been hampered by withdrawals or just refusals to take part, so this time round there was an attempt to be more inclusive.
The early tournaments suffered from countries refusing to travel if they were only going to play one or two matches. Although the group format was an improvement on the round-robin, they never really addressed this point.
Sixteen teams were drawn into four groups of four. FIFA re-introduced seedings and decided eight seeds were required. This meant each group contained two seeded and two unseeded teams. But that wasn’t so bad, they then decided the unseeded teams wouldn’t play each other. So only four matches were scheduled for each group with each seeded team playing each unseeded one. If two teams were level on points at the top of the group, a format of drawing lots would decide first place. If second and third were level on points, a play-off would take place. This created the danger of an un-seeded team beating a seeded team yet finishing level on points with them. The unseeded team then risked losing everything if they subsequently lost the play-off, when had they had the chance to beat the other unseeded team they’d have finished second anyway.
Things were further complicated as the seedings were announced before qualification was complete. Austria, Brazil, England, France, Hungary, Italy, Spain and holders, Uruguay, were seeded. This was FIFA’s first mistake. When Turkey knocked Spain out, arrangements were thrown into disarray. Turkey were not good enough to deserve a seeding, but rather than cause too much confusion and risk accusations of favouritism, they just slotted in as Spain’s replacements.
Six cities were chosen as venues, Bern, Basel, Geneva, Lausanne, Lugano, Zurich.
Brazil and France were seeded into Group 1, along with Mexico and Yugoslavia.
Hungary and Turkey were seeded into Group 2, along with West Germany and South Korea.
Austria and Uruguay were seeded into Group 3, along with Czechoslovakia and Scotland.
England and Italy were seeded into Group 4, along with Belgium and Switzerland.
This was world football’s first sighting of one of Brazil’s greatest ever players, Didi. He scored their second goal as they were four goals up at the break against Mexico in Geneva. Julinho, the winger, added their fifth. He became the first in a succession of world-class wingers Brazil produced. Where Garrincha and Jairzinho would tread, Julinho went before them.
5-0 was an impressive start for a side so determined to rid themselves of the memories of four years before.
Yugoslavia beat the odds with Milos Milutinovic scoring the only goal to beat seeded France in Lausanne. Milutinovic was named player of the tournament when Yugoslavia won the European U19 title in 1951.
Three days later in Lausanne Branko Zebec put Yugoslavia in front just after the break against Brazil. Zebec later became famous for managing Bayern Munich and Hamburg. His Hamburg side won the Bundesliga with Kevin Keegan in their ranks and lost to Nottingham Forest in the European Cup Final. Yugoslavia couldn’t do it to the other seed, could they?
Didi spared Brazil’s blushes and with the game still locked at 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes, extra-time ensued. Yes, for a group match! No further goals so the teams shared the points.
This made the other game in the group academic, although it was entertaining. France were 2-0 up a minute into the second period, but Mexico pulled it back level with just five minutes to go. Raymond Kopa then converted a penalty to give France the win. Kopa would later join Puskas in that famous Real Madrid side of the late ’50s.
With Brazil and Yugoslavia finishing level on points they drew lots and Brazil won to top the group.
The number one ranked side in world football, Hungary, took their bow in Zurich against South Korea. In a horrible mismatch, they were two up inside 20 minutes and four up at the break, with Puskas and Kocsis (2) among the goals. Kocsis completed his hat-trick early in the second half, with Zoltan Czibor making it six. Then in the final 15 minutes, Peter Palotas scored twice with Puskas completing the scoring to give them a convincing 9-0 win.
This is the highest winning margin in a World Cup match, equalled by Yugoslavia beating Zaire, 9-0 in 1974 and Hungary beating El Salvador 10-1 in 1982.
In Bern, West Germany were against seeded Turkey. Suat gave the Turks an early lead which Hans Schäfer soon cancelled out. Still level at the break, the Germans took control in the second period. Berni Koldt gave them the lead with Ottmar Walter putting them further ahead. In the final five minutes, Max Morlock made things certain and a 4-1 win.
Three days later the Germans were soon brought down to earth by Hungary in Basel. After his hat-trick in the first match, Sandor Kocsis again scored twice in the first half. Puskas also scored to give them a three-goal lead, before Pfaff got one back for the Germans. Nandor Hidegkuti, who’d been the scourge of England at Wembley a year before, then scored twice in two minutes early after the break and Hungary were 5-1 up.
There were then four goals in ten minutes as Kocsis completed his second successive hat-trick, with Jozsef Toth scoring their seventh. Helmut Rahn got one for the Germans before Kocsis grabbed his fourth. The scoring was then finished off by Richard Herrmann and Hungary won 8-3. 17 goals in two matches and the Hungarians were belligerent. But perhaps the most notable thing about the game was when German defender, Werner Liebrich’s tackle on Ferenc Puskas caused a hairline fracture in the Hungarian’s talisman’s ankle. This cast a major doubt on his ability to play again in the tournament.
In Geneva, Turkey had to win to give themselves any chance of progressing. They were up against South Korea who’d shipped nine against the Hungarians. Suat again opened the scoring and this time they were able to build on their lead. Lefter made it 2-0 before Suat scored again, with Burhan giving them a comfortable four-goal lead at the break. Burhan added another brace in the second half to complete his hat-trick with Erol giving them a convincing 7-0 win.
But goal difference was a thing of the future for this World Cup and so West Germany and Turkey had to have a play-off to see who would finish second. This seemed tough on the Germans. They were denied the chance to beat the Koreans, and therefore risk all the good work they’d put in to beat the Turks on the opening day.
In Zurich, Ottmar Walter put the Germans in front with Schäfer adding to the lead inside the first quarter of an hour. Mustafa got one back before Morlock restored the two-goal lead by half-time. As with their first meeting, the Germans took control in the second half. Morlock scored twice for his hat-trick, with Schäfer grabbing his second and captain, Fritz Walter getting their seventh. Lefter scored a consolation for the Turks and West Germany ran out comfortable 7-2 winners to book their place in the knock-out stages. Hungary and West Germany were through.
The defending champions Uruguay took their bow in Bern against Czechoslovakia, the losing finalists in 1934. The game was goalless until the final 20 minutes when Oscar Miguez put the champions in front. Miguez was the top scorer in Uruguay’s route to success in 1950. Another member of that side, Pepe Schiaffino, doubled their lead to give them a 2-0 victory. After the tournament, Schiaffino became the most expensive player in the world when he moved to Milan.
In Zurich, Scotland took on Austria. The Austrians were the team of the 1930s. Their ‘Wunderteam’ became the first international side to beat Scotland and their Silver Medal at the 1936 Olympics meant they were well fancied for the 1938 World Cup. However, the country was then annexed by Hitler’s Germany and FIFA withdrew them. As with many of the European countries, they were still reeling from the effects of the War but were still good enough to be seeded. Erich Probst opened the scoring in the first half and this proved to be the only goal of the game.
Three days later Scotland, were up against Uruguay, knowing only a win could give them any chance of progressing. Things began badly and got worse. Carlos Borges opened the scoring. Borges wasn’t a member of the 1950 side, but is famous for scoring the very first goal in the Copa Libertadores. Miguez doubled the lead at the break, but any Scot resistance was crushed in the second half. Borges scored twice for his hat-trick, Miguez scored another and Julio Abbadie helped himself to a couple too. Uruguay won 7-0 and looked in fine form to retain their title.
In Zurich, Austria made sure the seeds were correct for this group, at least. They thumped the Czechs 5-0 with Probst scoring a hat-trick. Uruguay and Austria were through.
Hosts Switzerland opened things up against Italy in Lausanne. Robert Ballaman put them in front before Giampiero Boniperti levelled things at the break. Boniperti was Italy’s captain, having also played in the 1950 tournament. However, the Italians couldn’t make the breakthrough in the second half and with 12 minutes to go Josef Hugi scored the winner for the Swiss.
In Basel, England made their appearance against Belgium. With a side including the likes of Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Billy Wright they lead 2-1 at the break. Leopold Anoul put Belgium in front, before Sunderland’s Ivor Broadis and Nat Lofthouse scored for England.
Broadis extended their lead midway through the second half before Rik Coppens got one back. Four minutes later Anoul scored his second to make it 3-3 and take the game into extra time. Lofthouse scored his second of the match but Portsmouth’s Jimmy Dickinson put through his own net and the game ended 4-4.
In the second round of matches things were certainly up for grabs in the group. Neither seeded team had won their opening match. Italy were up against Belgium in Lugano. Egisto Pandolfini gave them a first half lead from the penalty spot. Early in the second period, Carlo Galli doubled their lead. Italy were able to keep the Belgians at bay with further goals from Amleto Frignani and Benito Lorenzi. Anoul got a goal back for Belgium but they were well beaten.
England took on Switzerland in Bern knowing they had to win. Goals either side of the break from James Mullen and Dennis Wilshaw did just that. Mullen earned notoriety as England first ever substitute in an international in May 1950. For Wilshaw, this was his second cap for England. He had scored twice on his debut and now scored in this game too. England won comfortably, 2-0 to top the group.
Italy then contested a play-off with Switzerland in Basel. Hugi gave the hosts the lead and Ballaman extended it early in the second half. Fulvio Nesti got a goal back to make things tense, but Hugi scored his second five minutes from time before Jacky Fatton made victory certain for the Swiss to take them into the next round.
England and Switzerland progressed from this group.
Join us in part two where we cover the knock-out phase, including two iconic World Cup matches