No one can deny Germany’s deserved success at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil. While teams like Brazil, Argentina, and Portugal centered their game around one special player, the Germans went for an all-inclusive style of play, a black and white phalanx of 11 men on the pitch, and reinforcements on the side waiting to come and bolster the team when needed.
To give them more credit, they dealt with a plethora of fitness concerns. Rising star forward Marco Reus was ruled out of the World Cup just before it started after suffering a serious injury in a friendly, while skipper Philipp Lahm and both holding midfielders Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira were not fully fit when the tournament got underway. In addition, before their quarterfinal against France seven of Germany’s players were struck with the flu. Still, they overcame all that to lift the cup.
Before the World Cup, Germany coach Joachim Low stated that “there are other important things: family, friendship, and values,” and it was these off-the-field elements mixed together that created Germany’s recipe for success.
A Eurosport report went on to call this Germany side “the best at this World Cup, [as] they exhibited all the qualities required of great champions – skill, discipline, unity, and determination.”
With their latest triumph, Germany is now one World Cup win away from Brazil’s record of five World Cup championships, and will now have four stars above their national badge on their jersey. But should they actually have four stars?
The truth is, they shouldn’t.
That same Eurosport report claimed that “Germany like to win World Cups the hard way. Their first, in 1954, saw them defeat a supposedly invincible Hungarian side.”
Perhaps that rings true for this past tournament as the Germans dealt with injuries, fitness, and illness to lift the cup. In the process, they recorded resounding wins like the 4-0 demolition of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal side and the unforgettable and record-breaking 7-1 win against Brazil, who were dealt their worst ever defeat at home and had an unbeaten home record in competitive matches stretching back to 1975 snapped. In that same match, Miroslav Klose also added an individual milestone for Germany as he became the World Cup’s highest ever goal scorer with 16 goals, stealing a record from Brazil as he usurped the striker’s throne previously held by the legendary Ronaldo.
In 1954, however, the recipe for success was quite a different one.
To begin with, while all the other sides were wearing boots that were designed to protect players’ feet, usually riding above the ankle area like modern day American football shoes, a German company supplied their national team with an avant-garde new boot that distinguished itself as a lighter boot. The innovative footwear that focused on agility also came with interchangeable studs that suited different climates. This brand was, and still is, called adidas.
Playing in their first soccer tournament since 1938 due to being barred from participation after WWII, even the fancy footwear couldn’t salvage the Germans on the pitch. They were annihilated 8-3 by mighty Hungary, led by captain and talismanic striker Ferenc Puskas, but still managed to navigate their way to the Final, a rematch with the same Hungarian team.
By the time the final arrived on an overcast Sunday on July 4 1954, Puskas was an injury concern, having suffered a hairline fracture in his foot in the group stage match against the Germans. The Mighty Magyars, as the Hungarians were known at the time, couldn’t risk leaving out their star player and coach Gustav Sebes insisted on playing him. The decision paid off as he scored the first goal, which was soon followed by a second by Zoltan Czibor, and the Hungarians were up 2-0 before ten minutes were even played. Hungary, the favorites to win the tournament, already had one foot on the winner’s dais with 82 minutes to play.
As the game would unfold, the Germans scored two quick goals soon after to equalize by the 18th minute, before scoring the winner six minutes from time. Puskas scored what appeared to be a late equalizer, but it was ruled out for offside. Due to poor television replay technology at the time, no real decision could be deduced about whether it really was offside or not. The score at full-time ended up 3-2, and the Germans would lift their first ever World Cup trophy.
It wasn’t Puskas’ disallowed goal and neither was it Germany’s pioneering footwear that better adapted them to the slippery pitch that questions the eligibility of their World Cup victory. It’s far more soiled than that.
After the tournament’s favorites walked away with their heads hung low and noses to the ground, the jubilant Germans were celebrating their return to the international stage with the biggest victory in soccer. But at the Wankdorf stadium in Berne, in the Germans’ locker room to be more precise, “syringes and needles were found.” Hungarian captain Puskas had a feeling there may have been foul play on his counterpart’s side, but the German doctor only admitted to “merely inject[ing] a placebo” to his boys.
Later on, the claim was that it was in fact Vitamin C, which could help with stress and can also reduce breathlessness, two factors that give the substance some validity in being taken before the match. There are stronger reasons to believe that substance given to the German players were neither placebos nor Vitamin C.
In an article that has since been removed from The Guardian, Erik Eggers, a German scientist who studied the case of the 1954 German side, claims that “several strong indications…point to the injection of pervitin in some Germany players and not Vitamin C as was claimed.” Pervitin is a stimulant that turns fears into aggression, and was used by German soldiers in World War II.
In a Der Spiegel article titled “The Grandaddy of Crystal Meth,” the author claims the “Wehrmacht, Germany’s World War II army, distributed millions of the tablets to soldiers on the front, who soon dubbed the stimulant “Panzerschokolade” (“tank chocolate”).” The same article highlights pervitin as the drug “many TV fans are familiar with…primarily from the hit American series ‘Breaking Bad’.”
As it turns out, many of the German players, including goalkeeper Toni Turek and captain Fritz Walter, were Nazi soldiers during World War II. In the 1950 and 1954 World Cups it was not uncommon for a player to have participated in the war. By the sound of it, they had to have partaken in both affairs. It would not be farfetched to say that over the course of their military stints they developed a habit for the drug and their addiction remained. They were both in their early twenties when they were drafted, the right age for a young troop to obey whatever order he was given by his higher rank.
The Germans did not stop there.
In 1966, FIFA medical committee chairman, Mihajlo Andrejevic affirmed that there were “very fine traces” of the then-banned substance ephedrine in three unnamed German players at the World Cup. They went on to reach the final of that World Cup, which they lost to hosts England.
The fact of the matter is that at the time, there were no real regulations against doping. Many would argue that even now, tests for doping are insufficient. English football player Joey Barton, formerly of Newcastle and Marseille, commented on the subject claiming his “personal experience of drugs…is that they only take a urine sample from me…in over 10+ years of competing at elite level sport. Seems strange to me after reading about cycling’s procedures. Where they frequently take blood from athletes.”
“I have never had blood taken during my whole career!”
With doping tests only being introduced by FIFA in 1966, the first of four stars on any German national team jersey will always remain in its place. The woebegone part of this historical drama is not that German players weren’t playing by the rules. This practice is still in effect today, with many cases reported every year. Hungary however, have slipped off the grid in soccer, and it’s a crime that their history isn’t rewarded with at least one trophy, over half a century ago, when the team known as the Mighty Magyars once dominated the world of soccer.