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Football World Cup - 1954: Switzerland

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The World Cup: An Introduction | 1930: Uruguay | 1934: Italy | 1938: France | 1950: Brazil
1954: Switzerland | 1958: Sweden | 1962: Chile | 1966: England | 1970: Mexico
1974: West Germany | 1978: Argentina | 1982: Spain | 1986: Mexico | 1990: Italy | 1994: USA
1998: France | 2002: Japan and South Korea

The structures of the previous four World Cups had been a variety of straight knock-out matches or league systems. At the 1954 tournament, the organisers seemed to have come up with a more sensible system.

16 teams would qualify for the finals. They would be split into four groups of four, from which eight teams would qualify for the knock-out stages. However, for some bizarre reason, the organisers decided to seed two teams in each group. The seeded teams would only play the unseeded teams in their group.

The Tournament

The system used for the tournament was open to exploitation, which is exactly what happened when West Germany faced Hungary in their final group match. The Germans had calculated that if they lost to Hungary and beat Turkey in the resultant play-off, they would not have to face one of the favourites, Brazil, in the quarter-finals. They fielded a virtual reserve XI and lost 8-3 to the 'Magical Magyars', the shadow German side largely contenting themselves with seizing the opportunity to kick Hungarian stars like Ferenc Puskas. For the play-off match against Turkey, West Germany made seven changes and won 7-1.

The biggest surprise of the group stage was provided by the hosts. Switzerland beat Italy 2-1, and ended up facing the Italians again in a play-off. The Swiss did even better in the rematch, running out 4-1 winners and sending the Italians home early.

Hungary had been the pre-tournament favourites, with a team including such star performers as Puskas, Jozsef Boszik, Nandor Hidegkuti and Sandor Kocsis. They went to Switzerland as Olympic champions, and on an unbeaten run that had stretched for 31 matches. The previous year, they'd created a sensation by beating England 6-3 at Wembley.

In their first match in Switzerland, Hungary mercilessly trounced Korea 9-0. But the Hungarians were thrown out of their stride by a quarter-final against Brazil that became infamous as 'The Battle of Berne'. Three players were sent off during the game - but the hostilities didn't end there. The teams carried on fighting in the dressing rooms after the match, with their managers and officials joining in. Some football was played between the punch-ups, and at the end of the match the ten men of Hungary had beaten the nine men of Brazil 4-2.

The 1954 tournament was certainly anything but dull. One hundred and forty goals were scored in 26 matches - an average of 5.38 goals per game, which no other World Cup has matched. Twelve goals were scored in an incredible quarter-final between Austria and Switzerland, in which the hosts raced into a 3-0 lead only to end up losing 7-5.

Hungary ended Uruguay's reign as world champions in the semi-finals, beating the South Americans 4-2 after extra time. In the other semi-final, West Germany thrashed Austria 6-1. So the final would see Hungary meet West Germany for the second time in Switzerland - but this time, it would of course be the real, full-strength German team in action.

Hungary were hot favourites to win the final in Berne, and they led 2-0 after only eight minutes. But the Germans then staged one of the great World Cup comebacks, scoring twice in ten minutes to level the scores at 2-2 after only 18 minutes.

The rapid scoring ended there. The score stayed at 2-2 until six minutes from the end, when Helmut Rahn scored the winner for West Germany after Hungarian goalkeeper Gyula Grosics slipped on the wet grass as he was about to go for the ball. The West Germans were world champions, after perhaps the biggest surprise result ever in a World Cup final.

Tournament Trivia

The 1954 World Cup was the first one at which all the players wore numbers on their shirts.

For The Record

Pool 1
  P W D L F A Pts
Brazil 2110613

Pool 2
  P W D L F A Pts
West Germany 2101792
South Korea20020160
Play Off
West Germany 7 : 2 Turkey

Pool 3
  P W D L F A Pts
Uruguay 2200904
Czechoslovakia 2002070

Pool 4
  P W D L F A Pts
Switzerland 2101232
Play Off
Switzerland 4 : 1 Italy

West Germany 2 : 0 Yugoslavia

Hungary 4 : 2 Brazil

Austria 7 : 5 Switzerland

Uruguay 4 : 2 England

Hungary 4 : 2 Uruguay after extra time

West Germany 6 : 1 Austria

Third Place Play-Off
Austria 3 : 1 Uruguay

West Germany 3 : 2 Hungary

Tournament Top Goalscorer
Kocsis (Hungary) - 11 goals

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