In the first part we covered the qualification and group stages for this World Cup. It was the first tournament where some of the matches were broadcast live. Now here is the story of the knock-out phase.
After FIFA’s insistence of seedings for the group stages, the arrangements for the knockout stage seemed at odds with this. Two ties were competed between seeded teams, whereas there was one tie between two unseeded teams, and a seeded side against an unseeded team.
Another way to look at it was each group winner had to play another one, whereas finishing second in the group gave you another second-placed team to meet.
This was never more obvious as the Quarter-finals gave us a possible Final, Hungary v Brazil. England were up against the holders, Uruguay. Hosts, Switzerland, met near their neighbours, Austria, while West Germany were up against Yugoslavia.
The hosts were up first, in Lausanne against Austria. The first half was crazy, as nine goals were scored. Robert Ballaman started it all off with a goal in the 16th minute. 60 seconds later and Hugi scored his fourth of the tournament to put the Swiss two goals up. Two minutes later Hugi scored another. What a start.
In the 25th minute, Turl Wagner got an important goal back for Austria. This was the start of a sequence of three goals in as many minutes for them, with Wagner scoring twice and Alfred Korner getting one. 27 minutes gone and it was 3-3. Then in the 32nd minute, Ernst Ocwirk put the Austrians in front. Ocwirk is generally regarded as one of the greatest players Austria has ever had, and one of the finest midfielders the World Cup has ever seen. Two minutes later Korner scored his second of the match and Austria now lead 5-3, having been 0-3 down. Just before half-time, Ballaman scored his second of the game and Austria went in 5-4 up at the break.
Eight minutes into the second half and Wagner completed his hat-trick. Some World Cups barely see anyone score a hat-trick, yet Wagner’s was the sixth of this tournament. Seven minutes later Hugi scored the seventh. Austria now lead 6-5, with half an hour still to go. There would be only one further goal and it went to the Austrians, as Probst got on the scoresheet.
Austria won 7-5 in a game which is still a record number of goals for a World Cup match. The Swiss had given a good account of themselves, despite being a relatively small nation in football terms.
In the second Quarter-final, England were up against Uruguay. The game was played in sweltering heat in Basle. The South Americans had yet to concede a goal in their defence of their title. Barely five minutes into the game and Carlos Borges put Uruguay into the lead. Ten minutes later and Nat Lofthouse levelled things. As half-time approached the man who’d lifted the trophy four years before, Obdulio Varela, put Uruguay back in front. It was a stunning strike from about 30 yards out.
The next goal was going to be important, and unfortunately for England, it fell to Uruguay. Pepe Schiaffino scored it just a minute after the break. Schiaffino had scored in the game which won them the trophy four years before, and now he’d given them control in this match.
Tom Finney got one back after 67 minutes. Lofthouse’s shot was parried and Finney was on hand to get England back into it. But England couldn’t find the equaliser and Javier Ambrois made things certain to give Uruguay a 4-2 win. Reports suggest England could be pleased with their efforts against the World Champions and left the tournament with their heads held high. Many commentators said this was their best ever World Cup performance before 1966.
The next day West Germany took on Yugoslavia in Geneva. Yugoslavia were unbeaten right throughout qualification and group stage. The Germans had to get through a play-off to reach this stage.
Yugoslavian centre-back, Ivica Horvat, put it through his own net after 10 minutes. The ball was headed across the area and Horvat attempted to head it back to his keeper. But he hadn’t realised the keeper had come off his line to try and collect the ball, and Horvat’s header just bounced into the empty net. It was the fastest own goal in World Cup history, a record which stood for as long as 2006. Horvat seemed to like Germany; not only had he given them the lead, but he then moved to Eintracht Frankfurt a few years later before managing a host of Bundesliga clubs.
Yugoslavia laid siege to the German goal, but they just couldn’t find the equaliser and their tournament was over when Helmut Rahn made things certain with a goal five minutes from time. This was one of the finest teams Yugoslavia ever assembled, yet remarkably West Germany prevailed.
Now the Germans were through to the Semi-finals.
The last Quarter-final became known as the Battle of Bern. It was a classic. The two best sides in the world at the time, going toe-to-toe for a place in the Semi-finals. Hungary were unbeaten in 30 internationals. Brazil were utterly desperate to lift their first World Cup trophy. They’d scored six goals in the group matches, while Hungary had netted 17. The Hungarians would be without their greatest player, Ferenc Puskas, who’d was still injured from the West Germany match. Both teams believed whoever won this would go on to be World Champions.
The game was played in driving rain yet it took the Magyars just a few minutes to draw first blood. Hidegkuti scored the opening goal. His first shot was saved by Castilho, then Czibor tried to knock in the rebound, but the keeper saved again. The ball ran free and Hidegkuti pounced to ram it home. Four minutes later, Sandor Kocsis made it 2-0 with a header.
But any fears of another humiliation for Brazil were soon allayed when they were awarded a penalty. Djalma Santos, who’d earlier cleared a chance off the line, stepped up and fired it home. He later explained how several of his teammates didn’t want the responsibility of taking the kick. But he felt he had no choice, so step up he did and they were back in it.
Later in the half, Santos again cleared off the line, and it almost seemed like Hungary v Santos. The score stayed at 2-1 up to the hour mark, before the second penalty of the game was awarded, this time to Hungary. This was the cue for a pitch invasion from Brazilian journalists and officials, who were eventually ushered off by the police. Eventually, the pitch was cleared and Lantos confidently blasted it in to restore Hungary’s two-goal lead.
But Brazil weren’t out of it, as just five minutes later they were back within a goal. Julinho picked the ball up on the right of the area, cut inside and then fired a right-foot shot across the keeper. 3-2. The game then got ugly as tackles went flying in from both sides. Things reached a head when Jozsef Bozsik was fouled by Nilton Santos and the two men started fighting. English referee, Arthur Ellis, later of BBCs ‘It’s a Knockout’ fame, cleared the melee, then duly sent both players off.
Brazil had their chances to equalise, but with two minutes to go Kocsis headed in his second of the match to make things certain for Hungary. They won 4-2. It went down as one of the classic matches.
But the final scenes were just as famous as the game itself. Brazil striker, Tozi kicked Hungary’s Lorant and he became the third player to receive his marching orders. In an age where tough challenges were accepted, there were a total of 42 free-kicks in the game, with three players sent off. The bad feeling continued off the pitch as Brazilian players forced their way into the Hungarian dressing room to resume the punch-up.
Ellis later stated it was the worst game he’d ever witnessed and the Hungarian manager, who also needed stitches in a facial wound he received after the game, backed him up as he confirmed the rumours of after-match violence.
Hungary were just pleased to get through to the Semi-finals where they were to meet more South Americans in the form of defending Champions, Uruguay.
In Basle, West Germany were up against Austria. This was still within ten years of the Second World War, during which both countries had suffered badly. Of course, during the war, the two countries were one, and competed as such in the 1938 tournament. Now separated, both fancied their chances of reaching the Final. For the Germans they couldn’t quite believe they were at this stage, having only recently been allowed back into international competition.
The two sides were separated at the break by Hans Schäfer’s goal on the half-hour. After the break things really came alive. Max Morlock grabbed his fifth of the tournament to extend the German’s lead two minutes into the second half. Then, Erich Probst continued his run of a goal-a-game as his sixth of the competition brought Austria back into it.
The second half was not even ten minutes old when German captain, Fritz Walter scored the third of the half and West Germany were 3-1 up. It was from the penalty spot and lead to Austria badly needing the next goal. However, it was Walter’s brother and Kaiserslautern team-mate, Ottmar, who got it and now the Germans were beginning to dream of the final. Three minutes later they had their second penalty and Fritz Walter stuck that away too. Fifteen minutes into the second half and there’d been five goals, but unfortunately for the Austrians, they’d conceded four of them. Ottmar Walter rounded off the scoring with a minute left on the clock and West Germany had completed an impressive 6-1 win over their more fancied opponents.
It was a famous win for West Germany and would be the most famous match between the two nations until the ‘Disgrace of Gijon’ between the two in 1982. Austria’s left-back in 1954 was Ernst Happel who went on to manage Feyenoord and Hamburg to European Cup success, as well as manager of the Dutch side who were runners-up in World Cup 1978.
In Lausanne, pre-tournament favourites, and Olympic champions Hungary, were up against defending world champions, Uruguay. Even without Puskas, the Hungarians were still a formidable challenge. They took just 12 minutes to get their noses in front, when Zoltan Czibor netted. That was the difference at the break, but as in the other Semi-final, Hungary took just two minutes of the second period to double their lead, through Nador Hidegkuti. It was his fourth of the tournament and Hungary looked as if they would cruise to the Final.
But Uruguay weren’t prepared to give up their crown so easily. They’d won both tournaments they’d taken part in, 1930 & 1950, and were yet to lose a World Cup match. Juan Hohberg got one back in the 75th minute and then with just four minutes to go, he grabbed another to level things up and take the game into extra time. There were no goals in the first period, yet the most surprising aspect of the match thus far was that Sandor Kocsis hadn’t scored. Nine goals in three matches so far. Then with 9 minutes to go, he finally gave Hungary the lead. Five minutes later he put them out of sight, with two headers from the man known as ‘Golden Head’. Kocsis was top scorer in Europe’s leagues in 1952 and 1954 and he now had 11 for the tournament.
Hungary won 4-2 and were into the Final to meet West Germany. Having thrashed them 8-3 already in the group stage, Hungary had every reason to be confident.
If Hungary v Brazil had been memorable, this one was considered by many to be the greatest match ever played at the time.
But before then, Austria claimed third place as two second half goals gave them a 3-1 win over Uruguay.
Wankdorf Stadium, Bern, July 4th 1954 was the scene of what became known as ‘the Miracle of Bern’. Hungary were overwhelming favourites. They were reigning Olympic Champions and unbeaten in their last 32 games going into the match. They brought back Puskas, although he wasn’t 100% fit. It looked like the gamble had paid off when he put them in front after just six minutes. Two minutes later and Czibor made it 2-0. Was this going to be a repeat of their earlier meeting in Basel?
The game was played in driving rain, conditions the Germans christened ‘Fritz Walter weather’ as their captain was known to play his best football in the wet.
Two minutes after going two-down, Walter played a part in Morlock getting one back. Eight minutes later and remarkably the Germans were level. A series of corners had the Hungarians under pressure and eventually Rahn got the equaliser.
Hungary came back, clearly stunned at the Germans audacity to make a game of it. But they couldn’t convert their chances. In the second half the pattern of play was much the same. The Hungarians creating chances, but a combination of their inability to convert them and dogged German defending, kept the scores level.
With six minutes to go, Schäfer dispossessed Bozsik and crossed into the Hungarian penalty area. Rahn pounced on a poor clearance, feinted to pass to Ottmar Walter, and drove a shot low past Groscics to give the Germans the lead for the first time in the match.
Hungary thought they’d hit back almost immediately when Puskas scored, but it was ruled offside. In the final minute Czibor’s close range shot was saved by Turek and the Germans hung on.
The referee, William Ling of Cambridgeshire, blew the final whistle and West Germany had pulled off one of the biggest shocks in football.
If Hungary’s win over England at Wembley in 1953 had stunned the world, they were on the receiving end of an even bigger result in Bern. The West Germans were part-timers, with many having other jobs, and perhaps their unpredictability had foxed their opponents. Hungary definitely looked as if it was a game too far. It was the end of their long unbeaten run and the end of the ‘Golden Team’.
The uprising in Hungary two years later put paid to this team and they never reached such heights again.
In direct contrast, this was seen by many as the catalyst and a turning point for German history post-war. Some observers claim Ling incorrectly ruled out Puskas’s second goal. If he hadn’t we’ll never know how the history of football may have turned out.
There were other controversies surrounding that match, with rumours and counter-rumours flying around. Look out for my piece on the ‘Miracle of Bern’ when I expand more on that.
As I said at the start of this, there are many who believe this to be one of the best, if not the best World Cup ever. They point to many records which were set and still remain;
- Highest average goals per game (5.38)
- Most goals scored by one team (Hungary, 27)
- Highest average goals scored per game (Hungary, 5.4)
- Highest aggregate goal difference (Hungary, +17)
- Most goals scored by the champions (West Germany, 25)
- Most goals conceded by the champions (West Germany, 14)
- Most goals conceded by any team (South Korea, 16)
- Most goals scored in a single game (Austria 7-5 Switzerland)
- The greatest margin of victory in a single game (Hungary 9-0 South Korea). This was equalled in 1970 when Yugoslavia beat Zaire by the same scoreline, and in 1982 when Hungary beat El Salvador, 10-1)
The 1954 World Cup did much to build on the popularity of the game throughout the world. The 1950 tournament had produced a classic ‘Final’ twist, but this one was played in Europe where there was more interest in football at that time. The fact television was able to make it much more accessible to more people, took things up several notches. But what the world game needed more than anything was a global superstar. A young man who would stand head and shoulders over every other player and make people sit up and watch the game purely because of him.
Four years later, those prayers were answered.