Brazil has always been the land of beautiful football. The nation takes great pride in their team playing an attacking form of the game that values individual expression and goals, plenty of goals, above all else. However, at the 1954 World Cup, it was Hungary that had taken the mantle of being the team that enthralled the world with their beautiful movement and their clamour to score as many goals as they could every match.
Heading into the 1954 World Cup, the Mighty Magyars were unbeaten for the last four years at the international level and were the overwhelming favourites to win their first ever World Cup. On the other hand, Brazil were still smarting over their loss in the summit clash at the Maracana four years prior.
At the tournament, Brazil were placed in Group 1 along with Yugoslavia, France and Mexico. The tournament format was such that they faced Mexico – whom they beat 5-0, and then drew with the Yugoslavs 1-1 in their other group game. Yugoslavia won 1-0 over France in their group match. It meant that both Brazil and Yugoslavia had three points each from their two group games.
In those times, goal difference wasn’t taken into account, which necessitated the need of a draw of lots to ensure which team makes the knockout round. Brazil came out trumps in the draw and earned the right to face Hungary in the quarter-final.
Hungary, on the other hand, were wreaking havoc on their opponents. They had smashed South Korea 9-0 in their opening fixture before beating West Germany 8-3 in their next game.
It was no surprise that the Mighty Magyars started as favourites in their quarter-final played at the Wankdorf Stadium in Berne. And soon enough they took a 1-0 lead through a Nandor Hidegkuti strike in the fourth minute of the match. Sandor Kocsis doubled the Hungarian advantage three minutes later. But Djalma Santos converted an 18th minute spot kick to bring Brazil back into the game.
At the hour mark, Hungary restored their two-goal advantage when Mihaly Lantos scored from a penalty. But the awarding of the spot kick saw tempers flare in the Brazilian camp as their officials and journalists stormed the pitch in protest before being ushered out by the police.
However, the match slowly degenerated into chaos as violent challenges and cynical tactics flew left, right and centre. Somehow Brazil managed to find another goal to make the score 3-2.
At the 71st minute mark, Jozsef Bozsik and Nilton Santos started fighting after the Brazilian fouled the Hungarian, it ultimately resulted in both men seeing red card. Amidst all the scuffle Kocsis scored to make the score 4-2.
Before the final whistle Brazil saw their second dismissal as Humberto Tozzi was sent off for kicking Gyula Lorant. By the final whistle, the game had seen 42 free-kicks, two penalties, and three red cards. The unsavoury nature of the game earned it the moniker “the Battle of Berne.”
Match referee Arthus Ellis had a hard time keeping things in check and had this to say of the game: “I thought it was going to be the greatest game I’d ever see. I was on top of the world. Whether politics and religion had something to do with it I don’t know, but they behaved like animals. It was a disgrace.
“It was a horrible match. In today’s climate so many players would have been sent off, and the game would have been abandoned. My only thought was that I was determined to finish it.”
What should have been one of the greatest attacking games in football is unfortunately known for an entirely different kind of attacks.