So, are the defending champions Spain going out of the World Cup?
Can La Roja possibly recover after their 5-1 mauling by Holland? Surely Chile will be good enough to send them home; the task of reaching the knockout stages looks beyond Vicente Del Bosque's team.
Or maybe not. Maybe they can survive. At least Spain have World Cup history on their side.
One team not only survived, they won the World Cup after suffering an even bigger defeat than Spain—an 8-3 humiliation in the group stages.
West Germany were that team in 1954. What's more is that they were two goals down after eight minutes in the final against Hungary, the side who had thrashed them. That made it 10-3 on aggregate after 98 minutes of football.
And still the Germans won the World Cup. That’s why their feat was called "The Miracle of Bern" and immortalised in a film.
Perhaps Del Bosque, who was three years old at the time, will follow the lead of Germany's great coach, Sepp Herberger, who made five changes from his first line-up for the second meeting with Hungary. In his case, it was deliberate; in Spain's case, maybe Del Bosque will ditch some of those who flopped and unearth a stronger team than he selected for the Netherlands match.
Herberger, who gave us the great quotes "the ball is round" and "a match lasts 90 minutes," as per FIFA.com, sent out a weakened team for the group game against Hungary, who were unbeaten for years and were hot favourites to win the trophy.
Herberger’s tactics paid off: He fielded a stronger side to thrash Turkey in the next game, and the Germans were on their way. By finishing second, they avoided a knockout tie against a strong Brazil side.
He was widely criticised for his risky strategy, but Herberger knew what he was doing. His makeshift team were very physical in their approach, and Hungary’s greatest player, Ferenc Puskas, suffered an injury towards the end of the 8-3 game. By the final, he had not fully recovered.
Sandor Kocsis, another of the "Mighty Magyars" who had humbled England 7-1 in a friendly a few weeks before the tournament, hit four goals past the German reserve goalkeeper, Heinz Kwiatkowski. Hungary had matched Holland’s score, 5-1, after 54 minutes and led 7-1 with 15 minutes to go.
When Puskas and Zoltan Czibor put Hungary two goals ahead in the opening minutes of the final, some Germans might have expected another thrashing. But it was 2-2 within 10 minutes of Hungary’s second goal, and Helmut Rahn hit the winner six minutes from time—a goal still celebrated 60 years later in Germany, thanks largely to Herbert Zimmerman’s commentary.
The star of that team was the legendary Fritz Walter, after whom Kaiserslautern’s stadium is named. It was Walter who inspired a young Franz Beckenbauer to greatness.
The following day The Times (h/t ESPN FC) summed it up when they said: "No one, using pure logic, could have foreseen anything but a Hungarian victory. It was one of the most dramatic and certainly most surprising finals in the history of the World Cup."
They were wrong: it wasn’t "one of" the most surprising finals: It was—and still is—the most surprising final ever.
In 2003 a film about the World Cup triumph, Das Wunder Von Bern, was the No. 1 cinema hit of the year in Germany. An academic analysis of the comeback victory by Philipp Scherzer six years ago stated:
Helmut Rahn’s winning goal instantly revived the spirit of an entire country that not even a decade before had experienced huge devastation in the Second World War. A general sentiment that 'we are somebody again' began to overlie the whole population and helped rebuild a confidence that had been tainted by 12 years under the Nazi regime.
This triumph went on to be remembered in people’s minds as 'The Miracle of Bern'. Only one year later the West German wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) began and even nowadays Germany’s ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder counts this success among the most important post-war events in the country’s history.
Spain have the quality in their squad to revive memories of 60 years ago. After the 2010 World Cup triumph, Del Bosque was made a marquis. If he does it again and pulls off a "Miracle of Maracana" next month, maybe he should take the throne.
Brian Oliver was the longest-serving sports editor of the world's oldest Sunday newspaper, The Observer (1998-2011). He now works as a freelance writer and editorial consultant.
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