World Cup Flashback: Sweden v Germany 1958

As die Mannschaft prepares itself for their second 2018 World Cup Group F match next Saturday against Sweden in Sochi, it is time to wind back the clock to a classic encounter from the 1958 finals tournament against the Scandinavians.

Reigning champions West Germany were looking to make the final again, but had to face hosts Sweden in the semi-final. The match was to prove highly controversial as the Swedes ran out 3-1 winners booking their place to meet Pele’s Brazil in the final.

The Background

Prior to their encounter the two nations had met mostly in friendlies (15 of them), but had also met twice before in the World Cup. Their first competitive fixture came in the 1934 finals held in Italy when the Germans triumphed 2-1 in the quarter-finals. They next meeting occurred during the qualification process for the 1938 tournament with Germany cruising to a 5-0 win (Sweden however would go onto make it to the semi-final losing to Hungary, while the Mannschaft lost to Switzerland in the first round).

Germany travelled to Sweden as World Champions. having beaten massive favourites Hungary in the final four years earlier in the ‘Miracle of Bern’. Of the team that claimed a first title in 1954, only four of the starting XI from the final made the squad for the 1958 tournament- Horst Eckel, Fritz Walter, Helmut Rahn and Hans Schäfer. Manager Sepp Herberger was under pressure and faced criticism for clinging to the ageing Walter (37 years old) and problem child Rahn (he had been sentenced to two weeks in prison in 1957 for drunk driving and was seriously out of shape). Few saw Germany as one of the tournament favourites.

Both Sweden (hosts) and Germany (holders) had qualified automatically and both made relatively light work of progressing towards the final. Germany topped group 1 by beating Argentina and drawing with both Czechoslovakia and Wales, while the Swedes beat Mexico and Hungary before being held by Wales in group 3.

The quarter final stage saw Germany beat Yugoslavia 1-0 in Malmö with 1954 hero Rahn scoring the only goal, whereas the host nation advanced past the Soviet Union 2-0

The Match

Gothenburg’s Nya Ullevi stadium was the venue for the semi-final with close to 50,000 fans packed inside to witness the clash. Sepp Herberger opted to make a rare change, bringing in Hans Cieslarczyk of SV Sodingen on the left wing for his first game of the tournament rather than stalwarts of 1954 Aki Schmidt and Bernhard Klodt, who had been selected up to the semi-final.

Sweden meanwhile lined-up with four professionals who played their club football in Italy- Nils Liedholm (Milan), Kurt Hamrin (Padova), Lennart Skoglund (Inter) and Bengt Gustavsson (Atalanta).

Straight from the kick-off the atmosphere inside the Nya Ullevi was electric and unlike anything that the Germans had experienced before. In the 1950’s the standard behaviour of supporters was highly conservative, bordering on the neutral, with polite applause and gentle cheering the norm. Here though, the Swedes had turned their home stadium into a cauldron of noise with constant chanting (a lot of which was xenophobic and extremely derogatory to the Germans) h0oked up by a tabloid media campaign aimed at making Germany the enemy.

Sources claim that only around 1000 German fans were in the stadium due to being refused entry and various other shenanigans (busses curiously breaking down!) to stop them attending.

The hosts began well urged on by their fans forcing six corners in the opening twenty minutes. The atmosphere didn’t seem to affect the visitors at first and they took the lead in the 24th minute when captain Hans Schäfer fired in a superb shot from 25 yards following a great cross from the left by Uwe Seeler. That however, is where it all started to go wrong for the Nationalelf.

Having been denied what seemed a clear penalty by Hungarian referee István Zsolt, the official then missed an obvious handball by Nils Liedholm in the build-up to Sweden’s equaliser in the 33rd minute scored by Skoglund. The choice of the Hungarian referee had been a controversial one from Germany’s point of view with the DFB citing their 1954 victory over the Hungarian Golden Team as a reason for potential lack of neutrality.

If the crowd were aggressive, so too was the Swedish tackling and when Kurt Hamrin went unpunished by the referee for yet another nasty foul, German defender Erich Juskowiak took matters into his own hands by going in late on the Swede. This time however the match official was prepared to act and duly sent Juskowiak off with a straight red card. 

Playing with ten men was always going to be tough, but in fact Germany had to play the last 15 minutes with just nine as Fritz Walter was totally incapacitated by injury following another tough challenge from his man-marker Sigvard Parling. In those days substitutes were unheard of, so Walter had to hobble as a mere passenger for the last quarter-of-an-hour.

Pushed to the limit, German couldn’t hold out and the home side hit them with two late goals from Gunnar Gren (81) and Kurt Hamrin (88) to clinch a historic 3-1 win and a place in the final against Brazil.

The Aftermath

Relations between the two countries hit an all-time low as a result of the semi-final clash. Dubbed the ‘Scandal Match’ and the ‘Battle of Gothenburg’ by the German press after the event, there was so much bad feeling between the two nations that a full diplomatic crisis ensued.

Following the final whistle DFB-President Peco Bauwens was vociferous in his condemnation of what he’d just witnessed complaining that; “What we saw here was incitement! We will never set foot in this country again and we’ll never play Sweden again”.

The German delegation refused an invitation to the final and the whole squad returned to Germany before the conclusion of the tournament. In the following weeks Swedish tourists in Germany were abused and had their tyres slashed, some restaurants stopped serving Swedish dishes, beer prices were raised for Swedish customers and ‘ladies of the night; working on Hamburg’s infamous Reeperbahn even put up signs saying ‘Swedes not welcome!’

Things did ultimately die down, but the frosty relations lasted until the two nations played a friendly in 1963.


The match had originally been scheduled for Stockholm, but was switched to Gothenburg at the last minute.

The match was German legend Fritz Walter’s last and having scored 33 goals in 61 international appearances, he retired from the Nationalmannschaft.

Saturday’s Group F clash in Russia (23/06/18) will take place almost 60 years to the day from the 1958 semi-final which fell on June 24th.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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