The upset that changed a nation
By STEVEN SANDOR, QMI Agency
Each and every time Miroslav Klose scores another goal, after every deft pass from the foot of Bastian Schweinsteiger, the German national program needs to look back and thank the heroes of 1954.
The Miracle of Bern. It is the most-celebrated moment in German sports history. Heck, the Germans made a movie about it.
That World Cup, contested in Switzerland 56 years ago, was supposed to be a cakewalk. Not for West Germany, but for Hungary. The Magic Magyars were overwhelming favourites. They were cocky, and played the most offensively aggressive style the game had ever seen; they were to soccer what the Edmonton Oilers were to hockey of the 1980s. They scored six against England at Wembley. They won the Olympic title in 1952. They hadn't lost in three years.
And, they featured the greatest goal-poacher the game had known up to that day, Ferenc Puskas, who later would go on to become one of the greatest forwards in Real Madrid history. Sandor Kocsis is regarded as the most talented header of the ball in the game's history -- dubbed the Man With the Golden Neck. Kocsis scored 11 goals in the tournament. Today, with more teams and more games, you score five and you are a hero.
To prove a point, Hungary scored eight against West Germany in their group-stage game. It scored nine more against Korea.
The Magyars rolled into the final, taking out defending world champs Uruguay and the Brazilians along the way. The hard work was supposed to be over. Only the West Germans were left; it was to be the crowning moment.
But, scoring twice in the opening eight minutes, something totally unforeseen happened to Hungary.
The Magic Magyars lost. FInal score: West Germany 3, Hungary 2.
German coach Sepp Herberger had found a game plan to nullify the Hungarians and its stunning 4-2-4 system, that really worked more like a 2-4-4. He told his club to work hard, to not give up on any ball, to frustrate the opposition while the defenders remained disciplined. They became the hallmarks of the German soccer program. Helmut Rahn scored the tying and winning goals. The muddy field in Bern, ruined by rain, slowed the Hungarian attack. Herberger knew this would work to the Germans' advantage.
Had this game occurred in the era of live, colour TV, we'd see it on ESPN Classic on a weekly basis.
When hockey fans use the word "miracle," you know they are talking about Lake Placid, 1980. When soccer fans hear "miracle," they know you are referring to the '54 final.
You can point to the U.S. beating England in 1950, or the North Koreans upsetting the Italians in 1966 as more extreme cases of David and Goliath. But, those upsets never changed the footballing fortunes of those countries.
But, the West German upset over Hungary in 1954 changed a nation. It gave confidence to a country that wasn't a soccer power at a time. It announced to the world that, nine years after the war, West Germany was ready to join a new Europe. By designing shoes for the rainy, muddy conditions, Adi Dassler went from a minor German businessman to a proprietor of a sports empire.
If West Germany capitulated as expected, it likely fades into history. Germany doesn't become the most consistent national program in the world. There is no Gerd Muller, no Jurgen Klinsmann, no Franz Beckenbauer.
And, no Klose, Schweinsteiger or Thomas Muller.
Ironically, the Germans of 2010 have dominated their opposition, save for the hiccup against the Serbs, by using the 4-2-3-1 system, which owes a debt to the Hungarian 4-2-4, even though there are differences.
How ironic it would be if the Germans won the World Cup playing a style of soccer they were able to solve 56 years ago.