July 4th in German History: Germany Wins the 1954 World Cup

While July 4th may be the single most important day in American history, it also features prominently in the cultural history of Germany. On July 4th, 1954, West Germany won the FIFA world cup against Hungary, defying expectations and helping to reintegrate Germany with the rest of the world.

West Germany was admitted into FIFA in 1950 and had to quickly form a team. Sepp Herberger, who had been the coach of the German team from 1936 to 1942, was made the coach of the new team. Players were semi-professionals and often had second jobs, and only played a short qualifying tournament and a few other international games before the 1954 world cup. In contrast, the Hungarian “Golden Team” had won 31 of 31 international games in the five years before 1954 and had professional players. Hungary was overwhelmingly favored to win the tournament, and won all of the games, including one against Germany, that it played before the finals. However, Germany was able to defeat teams from Turkey, Yugoslavia, and Austria to qualify for the final match. Hungary scored the first goal, but Germany quickly pulled ahead with a skilled offense. The German defense also did a good job of saving Hungarian shots, as Hungary shot many more times than Germany did. Germany pulled ahead three points to two by the end of the game.

The German victory was important not only as an athletic accomplishment, but also in that it signified German reentry into international culture and entertainment. The 1954 tournament was the first international tournament that Germany participated in following the Second World War and it helped rehabilitate the German image. While currency reform and fiscal stimulus were critical in rebuilding the German economy, it would fall to soccer players to restore to Germany international respect and friendship.

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