As the 2018 FIFA World Cup approaches, DFB.de takes you on a journey back through Germany’s previous appearances at the tournament, bringing you everything from historic matches to unusual anecdotes. Today, we look back at 1958…
The 1954 World Cup will always be remembered as the one that put German football on the map – one of the finest achievements in German sporting history, when the first of four stars was born on a magical evening in Bern, where our story begins…
First up for Sepp Herberger’s side were Turkey, who unexpectedly beat Spain in the qualifiers and booked their spot at the World Cup via drawn lots, on 17th June in Bern. It was West Germany’s first participation in a World Cup for 16 years and third overall, having only been reinstated by FIFA in 1950. As such, they would compete as one of eight unseeded sides.A unique format saw the 16 competing nations divided into four groups of two seeded and two unseeded sides; the two seeded sides playing each of the two unseeded, thus West Germany would play the Turks and hot favourites Hungary, but not tournament debutants South Korea.
More curiously, in the event that the top two teams were tied on points after two matches, lots were drawn to decide who progressed to the quarterfinals in first and second place. Should two teams be level on points in second and third, a play-off match would be required decide who reaches the last eight. A strange format, but one that would prove crucial to Germany’s tournament strategy later on.
“We’re hoping for a miracle!” wrote Kicker of West Germany’s outright chances going into the Turkey game, with nobody giving the amateur side any chances of success. But that didn’t stop 20,000 optimistic Germans flocking to Bern on buses to watch the opening match which conveniently fell on a bank holiday weekend.
The Turks were strong defensively and liked to hit opponents on the break so the Germans, captained by Fritz Walter, would need to be alert from the off. Things didn’t go quite to plan, however, as it took just 160 seconds for Turkey to take the lead; Suat Mamat gliding past Werner Kohlmeyer, nutmegging Josef Posipal before slotting a low finish under goalkeeper Toni Turek – at the time, the quickest goal in World Cup history. Nightmare start for Die Mannschaft.
The team were unfazed by the early goal and equalised in the 13th minute through Hans Schäfer, who split through two defenders before firing low into the goal. The scores remained level at the break, after Ottmar Walter’s late strike was ruled out for offside.
Following a half-time team talk and a cup of tea, West Germany flew out of the blocks in the second period, winning 4-1 thanks to goals from Berni Klodt, Walters and Max Morlock. A positive start to the campaign ahead of the tough second group stage match against Hungary, who beat South Korea 9-0 in their opener.
West Germany’s chances against the Mighty Magyars, who hadn’t lost a match for four years, were considered so slim that Herberger took the controversial decision of resting all his stars for the match in Basel on 20th June, in order to keep them fresh for a likely play-off against Turkey. Hungary made light work of the second-string West Germany side, thrashing them 8-3 – still the heaviest competitive defeat in German football history – despite legendary star Ferenc Puskás being forced off with a hairline fracture in his ankle in the first half.
"You can’t hold anything against the team, nobody could beat this opponent," excused DFB president Peco Bauwens in the aftermath of the defeat. “The team will up for this against Turkey." The fans back home were not so forgiving, however, with sacks of hate mail arriving at the team’s base camp in the following days. Many called for Herberger to resign, with one angry supporter going as far as writing "if the head coach of the national team doesn’t know his duty to the spectators and fans, he’s better off buying a rope and hanging himself off the nearest tree, ideally ensuring that the rope doesn’t snap."
Herberger defiantly filed all the letters in a folder labelled “co-workers” and read them out to the players to motivate then ahead of the play-off. Rested stars, including Turek, Fritz, Morlock, Klodt and Schäfer, all returned to the team for the match which took place in Zurich in front of just 17,000 fans. For the first time in history, West Germany ran out in their iconic green away shirts.
The team got off to a blistering start, taking the lead for the first time in the tournament, and eventually ran out 7-2 winners to qualify for the quarterfinals and deliver on Pauwen’s promise of redemption. "The two hours before the match were the most difficult in my coaching career," admitted Herberger, whose tactical gamble had paid off. "Even though I was convinced I had made the right decision, anything could have gone wrong."
The quarterfinals pitted West Germany against Yugoslavia, who drew the short straw in their group to finish second to Brazil, on 27th June. Having lacked defensive stability throughout the tournament, Herberger set his team up defensively, allowing their opponents to attack. Ahead of kick-off in Geneva, captain Fritz Walter made a revolutionary move by gathering his teammates on the pitch in a huddle for the first time to offer some final words of encouragement.
An own goal from Ivan Horvat settled nerves and gave West Germany the early lead, but it was Yugoslavia who enjoyed most of the attacking play, as goalkeeper Turek delivered one of the performances of his life to silence his doubters back home.
Herberger’s tactic of sitting back and looking to attack on the break was paying off, but the team were struggling to create any notable chances for a valuable second goal. As the clocked ticked slowly towards full time, Helmut Rahn, who twice promised his coach a goal against Yugoslavia, popped up with a thunderous strike from 20 yards to seal the win for West Germany. Jubilant scenes followed at full time, as fans carried their players off the pitch after reaching their first World Cup semi-final. Herberger was vindicated once again and the nation could finally start believing in the impossible.
Austria were all that stood between West Germany and a spot in the World Cup final, and the match proved the perfect opportunity to cast off the dark memories of their previous trip to Basel. The Austrians were slight favourites going into the game, but defensive frailties exposed in their 7-5 win over Switzerland gave Herberger confidence.
Just as in the quarterfinal, the game would be played in rainy conditions, by then known as “Fritz Walter Weather” on account of the captain and team performing better in the rain. 40,000 German fans created a rapturous pre-match atmosphere as the players made their final preparations. Ten minutes before kick-off, Kohlmeyer stunned teammates by starting to shave – some way to cool the nerves ahead of the biggest game in Germany’s football history.
West Germany deployed similar tactics to the Yugoslavia game, sitting deep and compact, letting their opponents dictate the opening stages. Their patience paid off in the 32nd minute, when Schäfer volleyed in the opener with a delicate side-footed finish – the only goal in the first half.
Despite having the lead, the wet grass was proving problematic for both sides. Kit man Adi Dassler, founder of the now-global sports brand Adidas, added longer studs to every player’s innovative new boots to give them added grip on the muddy turf – a masterstroke in hindsight. A stunning second-half performance inspired by captain Walter (two goals and two assists) saw West Germany thrash their neighbours 6-1 to reach a first ever World Cup final.
"I don’t believe a Germany team has ever performed that well," praised Herberger after the game, while DFB president Bauwens declared 30th June the "proudest days in the 54 year history of the DFB." Little did he know…
Hot favourites Hungary awaited in the final in Bern on 4th July, where the odds were stacked firmly against West Germany. Such was the optimism of a Hungary win following their extra time victory in their semi-final against holders Uruguay, statues of the players were already being erected in Budapest and special edition stamps were being printed. The team themselves decided against training on Thursday and Friday, before completing a light session the day before the final.
Puskás, who had suffered a hairline fracture in the match against West Germany, was facing a race against time to be fit for the final and, in a wonderful gesture of sportsmanship, was offered to use the West German’s innovative new underwater massage therapy. Hungary politely declined, insisting their main man would be fit for the match regardless.
Having witnessed the 6-1 semi-final win in Basel, the angry supporter who called for Herberger to hang himself wrote a second of apology. "I now see that you were right all along and would like to congratulate you and the team," he wrote.
The 4th July started a warm, summer’s day, but clouds from the mountains were headed towards Bern in time for kick-off. Perfect, thought the team. Fritz Walter Weather. Another advantage for the Germans was Adi Dassler's studded boots that were significantly lighter than those worn by the Hungarians, allowing them to move quicker on a boggy pitch. Despite not being fully recovered, Puskás started for Hungary and stunned the Germany team and 25,000 fans in the stadium when he fired his team in front after just six minutes. A nightmare start got even worse just two minutes later when a defensive mishap between Kohlmeyer and Turek gave Zoltán Czibor a simple tap-in. Eight minutes gone and Hungary were already two up.
Facing a near impossible task, Die Mannschaft refused to back down and showed an immediate response. A mishit shot from Rahn fell to Morlock in the box, who dragged the ball over the line with his knee. 2-1 after just ten minutes. The unlikely comeback was complete eight minutes later when Rahn met a looping corner at the back post and fired in to level. It was in these moments that the legend of Germany never giving up was born – and there is perhaps no greater example of that in the nation’s sporting history.
The final 45 minutes of the 1954 World Cup final may well be the most nerve-racking, pulsating half in German football. Save after save from “Fussballgott” Turek. The woodwork hit multiple times by the Hungarians. Another goal-line clearance from Kohlmeyer. A Puskás goal unfairly ruled out. An 84th minute low-driven strike from Helmut Rahn that produced one of the most famous pieces of German radio commentary and one of all-time greatest moments in World Cup history. West Germany were World Cup winners for the first time.
While Hungary were hapless to explain such a result, Germans at home and abroad reveled in collective delight. A triumph that sent a wave of euphoria across West Germany and proved a turning point in its post-war history. Indeed the rippling effect was felt thousands of miles away in Russia, where some few hundred POWs were told by their camp commander: “Today you don’t need to work, because Germany have just won the World Cup."
The 1954 World Cup triumph is to this day considered one of the greatest upsets of all time and West Germany remain the only amateur team to win the World Cup.
Germany 4-1 Turkey – 17th June 1958, Wankdorf Stadium, Bern (28,000 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Suat (2’), 1-1 Schäfer (14’), 2-1 Klodt (52’), 3-1 O. Walter (60’), 4-1 Morlock (84’)
Germany 3-8 Hungary – 20th June 1958, St. Jakob Stadium, Basel (56,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Kocsis (3’), 2-0 Puskás (17’), 3-0 Kocsis (21’), 3-1 Pfaff (25’), 4-1, 5-1 Hidegkuti (50’, 55’), 6-1 Kocsis (68’), 7-1 J. Toth (75’), 7-2 Rahn (77’), 8-2 Kocsis (78’), 8-3 Herrmann (84’).
Germany 7-2 Turkey – 23rd June 1958, Hardturm Stadium, Zürich (17,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 O.Walter (5’), 2-0 Schäfer (12’), 2-1 Ertan (21’), 3-1, 4-1 Morlock (30’, 61’), 5-1 Fritz Walter (62’), 6-1 Morlock (77’), 7-1 Schäfer (79’), 7-2 Küçükandonyadis (83’).
Germany 2-0 Yugoslavia – 27th June 1958, Charmilles Stadium, Geneva (17,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Horvat (10’;og), 2-0 Rahn (84’).
Germany 6-1 Austria – 30th June 1958, St. Jakob Stadium, Basel (58,000 spectators)
Goals: 1-0 Schäfer (31’), 2-0 Morlock (47’), 2-1 Probst (52’), 3-1 Fritz Walter (56’, penalty), 4-1 O. Walter (61’), 5-1 F. Walter (65’, penalty), 6-1 Ottmar Walter (88’).
Germany 3-2 Hungary – 23rd June 1958, Wankdorf Stadium, Bern (62,500 spectators)
Goals: 0-1 Puskás (6’), 0-2 Czibor (8’), 1-2 Morlock (10’), 2-2, 3-2 Rahn (18’, 84’).