It's difficult to decide whether one would remember the 1954 World Cup finals for the ‘Galloping Major’ Ferenc Puskas and his indomitable Hungarian side, its heartbreaking loss in the final to West Germany or for the bloodthirsty brawl the team was involved in during its quarterfinal match against Brazil.
The ‘Magical Magyars’ from Hungary led by the legendary Puskas were almost unstoppable, coming to the Cup after taking England to the cleaners at Wembley.
Brazil, still fretting over its Uruguayan heartbreak four years back at home, was also a force to reckon with and had a genuine chance of becoming the first South American team to win the competition in Europe.
The two sides met in Berne, but the beautiful game soon descended into a violent farce.
Now called the ‘Battle of Berne’, the game is regarded as the dirtiest match in World Cup history, a day when Brazil opted for brutality over beauty and Hungary was only too happy to join in.
The result, a 4-2 victory for Hungary, is a barely remembered footnote. Hungarian coach Gustav Sebes had to receive four stitches to a facial wound after being struck by a broken bottle in the aftermath.
With the injured Puskas watching from the stands, Hungary had gone 2-0 up after 10 minutes, but Djalma Santos pulled one back from a penalty to keep Brazil in contention.
But English referee Arthur Ellis’ decision to award another spot-kick to the Hungarians, which Lantos duly converted, marked a quick deterioration in the situation.
The assembled Brazilian journalists and officials invaded the pitch and were involved in several scuffles with the local police. Niggling fouls and sly punches peppered the second half, and the match soon went out of control. The final whistle brought little respite as the Brazilians raided and smashed the Hungarian dressing room where anything and everything was used as a weapon.
Referee Ellis bore the brunt of the anger. His car was spat on as he left the stadium, with shouts of “communista” ringing in his ears. The Brazilians lodged a formal protest with FIFA, terming the game a communist conspiracy to demean them.
“I am convinced, after all these years of reflection, that the infamous Battle of Berne was a battle of politics and religion,” Ellis said later in his 1962 biography.
“The politics of the Communist Hungarians and the religion of the Catholic Brazilians.”
One of the mysteries of the match was, however, the precise involvement of Puskas (who is generally projected as the tragic hero of the 1954 competition who undeservedly lost the final to Germany) in the melee after the final whistle.
Reports suggest that the Hungarian maestro smashed a bottle into the face of a Brazilian player in the tunnel, while others vaguely blame a spectator.
Puskas had since admitted that he did, in fact, get hold of a Brazilian player and dragged him into the Hungarian change-room but then decided to let him go.
Keeping with the spirit of Berne, the unanticipated 3-2 victory of West Germany over Hungary was christened the ‘Miracle of Berne’ but was marred with rumours of bad refereeing and doping.
German historian Guido Knopp claimed in a 2004 documentary for a private German television channel that players were injected with shots of Vitamin C at half-time, using a needle earlier taken from a Soviet sports doctor, which could also explain the wave of jaundice among team members following the grand win.