“Auf Wiedersehen, Wankdorf”
Saturday's match between Young Boys and Lugano brought down the curtain on almost fifty years of football at the Wankdorf stadium. In those five decades the ground has hosted European club competitions, dozens of Swiss Cup finals and one World Cup.
Switzerland’s national stadium for almost half a decade, the Wankdorf has also hosted a number of international events, the greatest of all being the final of the 1954 World Cup.
Built specifically to host the tournament, the stadium was the setting for a thrilling showdown between Germany and Hungary. In front of 60,000 spectators the Hungarians enhanced their reputation as hot favourites by taking a 2-0 lead, but the Germans fought back to win the match 3-2.
The game marked the emergence of Germany as a football superpower and ensured the Wankdorf’s place in the country’s sporting folklore. As a result the ground’s imminent demolition has attracted many an emotional tribute north of the Swiss border.
Even German chancellor Gerhard Schröder has joined in the reminiscing, remarking recently that “the Wankdorf stadium will always have a place in the memories of the German people.”
While Switzerland’s footballers enjoyed some unexpected success themselves as World Cup hosts in 1954, their first two games at the Wankdorf were both to end with Swiss defeats.
After opening their campaign with a 2-1 win over Italy in Lausanne, Switzerland were beaten 2-0 by England in the new national stadium. A subsequent play off match saw the Swiss again overcome Italy, this time with a 4-1 victory in Basel.
Three days later Switzerland returned to the Wankdorf for a quarter-final match against Austria. After taking a 3-0 lead after just 20 minutes, the Swiss seemed on course for a place in the semi-finals.
But the Austrians rallied, taking a 5-4 lead by halftime before eventually winning the game 7-5.
After that disappointing start, the Swiss were to later enjoy plenty of memorable wins at the Wankdorf. Perhaps the most notable came almost forty years after the stadium’s birth when Switzerland again beat Italy (1-0 on May 1 1993) to virtually make sure of a place at the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States.
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