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Switzerland 1954

Previous: Brazil 1950Next: Sweden 1958

Let's look back at the fifth World Cup, held in Switzerland (the home of FIFA) in 1954 and won by West Germany, their first of three victories so far.

This World Cup marked 50 years of existence for FIFA. You'd think they'd make a party of it. But no, they restricted the tournament to 16 teams again. There were 13 qualifying groups, some with as few as two teams, a typical FIFA imbalance.

And it is here that Spain's bizarre story begins. They drew a group of two with Turkey and were generally favoured to win easily. They began well by winning 4-1 at home. However, Turkey fought hard and hung on for a famous 1-0 victory in Istanbul. So who goes through? Spain on aggregate 4-2? No, FIFA's rules required a play-off. Held in neutral Italy the replay finished at 2-2. Who goes through? Spain on a 6-4 aggregate? Extra-time? A shootout? No, FIFA's rules required that "lots shall be drawn". A local Italian youth was chosen to draw the lots. (Apocryphally he was blind to ensure fairness, but this is not true.) Turkey qualified.

The story continues with some poetic justice. Turkey finished second in their group, ahead of West Germany in third, only on goal difference. FIFA again required a replay. West Germany went through with a 7-2 win. (Which means that under today's rules where goal difference applies, the eventual winners of WC 1958 would have been eliminated in the group stage.)

Our story doesn't end there though. Since then FIFA has grappled with the problem of deciding who progresses from the group stage when teams finish level (and where extra time or shootouts are problematic). The rules have grown more complicated over time and now include goal difference, goals for, the results between the teams finishing equal and so on. But if you read the rules for WC 2006, the last resort in a complex multi-step process is still "the drawing of lots".

Scotland's uniforms at WC 1958 demonstrated some lack of foresight (or perhaps just basic knowledge / geography). The Scottish FA assumed that because the finals were being played in Switzerland with all its high mountains, that it would be cold. The Scottish players were kitted out with thick woollen jerseys with long sleeves and heavy buttoned collars. Their first game was played under bright sunshine and the temperature was over 30 degrees Celsius. Their opponent wore light, V-necked T-Shirts and defeated Scotland 7-0.

WC 1954 produced an absolute goal fest, 140 goals from 26 games. Hungary alone scored 27 in just 5 games. Who knows why? Theories abound. Perhaps the introduction of television prompted a need to entertain. One record that hasn't been equalled is Austria fighting back from 0-3 down against Switzerland to be up 5-3 at half-time and winning 7-5. No other team has ever come back from 0-3 down at the finals. West Germany defeated Hungary 3-2 in the final, an incredible victory considering Hungary defeated West Germany 8-3 in the first round.