On June 27, 1954, the highly-anticipated World Cup quarter-final between Hungary’s Golden Generation and Brazil degenerated, the closing stages proving so fractious that it is aptly remembered as “The Battle of Berne”.
In the lead-up to the 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland, Hungary had become Olympic champions at Helsinki 1952 and had put together an incredible 32-match unbeaten run, which included legendary triumphs such as their 6-3 defeat of England at Wembley in 1953, the first time the English had been defeated at home by a team from outside the United Kingdom.
Boasting players of the calibre of Nandor Hidegkuti, Zoltan Czibor, Sandor Kocsis and ‘The Galloping Major’, Ferenc Puskas, the Magyars were in no less impressive form when they reached Switzerland, thrashing Korea Republic 9-0 in their opening group match before thumping West Germany 8-3.
In the meantime, the Brazilians had been licking their wounds following the Maracanazo, the shattering 2-1 defeat they suffered against Uruguay in the final and decisive match of the 1950 World Cup, a match they had only needed to draw to become world champions.
After qualifying from the group phase by beating Mexico 5-0 and drawing 1-1 with Yugoslavia, the Seleção set up a mouth-watering quarter-final against Hungary, viewed by the Brazilians and their football-mad supporters back home as a genuine chance to atone for the disaster at the Maracana four years earlier.
But in a game played in driving rain, it took the Magyars just seven minutes to surge into a two-goal lead before Djalma Santos scored made it 2–1 at half time. Feisty but entertaining up to that point, the match degenerated in the second half, the closing stages proving so fractious that it is aptly remembered as “The Battle of Berne”.
Violent conduct and fighting prompted English referee Arthur Ellis to send off three players during the match, with fighting continuing in the dressing rooms after the final whistle, with Hungary winning 4-2. In total, 42 free kicks and 2 penalties were awarded, with 4 yellow and 3 red cards issued. The ill-temper continued after the game, with the Brazilian players invading the Hungarian dressing room
The game’s referee Arthur Ellis commented: “I thought it was going to be the greatest game I’d ever see. I was on top of the world. But they behaved like animals. It was a disgrace. This was a battle; a brutal, savage match,” recalled Hungary manager Gustav Sebes, who needed four stitches for a facial wound received during the fighting.
The Times correspondent concluded: “Never in my life have I seen such cruel tackling, the cutting down of opponents as if with a scythe, followed by threatening attitudes and sly jabs when officialdom was engaged elsewhere”.
Led by Kocsis and Puskás, Hungary’s Golden Generation went on to reach the final but lost to West Germany, once again in Berne. The Miracle of Berne, as the Final came to be known, is still one of the biggest upsets in the history of the FIFA World Cup.
West Germany’s first world title catapulted them into the global elite, where they have remained ever since. Yet for the Hungarians it was the end of an era that had been lit up by their Olympic win and some remarkable victories, but which failed to bring the title that mattered most.
Listed as the best international football team ever in football history by the BBC, the so-called Magnificent Magyars, recorded between 1950 and 1956, 42 victories, 7 draws and just that one defeat in the 1954 World Cup final, achieving the highest rating recorded by a national side.
They are credited for successfully implementing an early form of “Total Football”, later used effectively by the Dutch in the 1970s.
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