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Champs or cheats?

Rumors of a drug scandal from 50 years ago are coming back to haunt the Germans, according to the Daily Telegraph (registration).

Half a century after Germany's 1954 World Cup victory, widely considered to mark the moment the country regained international respectability, Germans are transfixed by a row over allegations that the players may have been doped.

The German football team, who emerged as the "Heroes of Bern" after a 3-2 victory over Hungary in the Swiss capital, may have been injected with performance-enhancing substances before the match, according to a new book and two television documentaries by publicly funded broadcasters.

Former doctors claim that they injected the men with Vitamin C, but the documentaries suggest that subsequent health problems raise further questions.

The victory was an unlikely one. Hungary were regarded as the finest side in the world and in an earlier game in the tournament beat the Germans 8-3. The events were dramatized last year in the film The Miracle of Bern which has broken box office records in Germany and on his own admission, reduced Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to tears.

To football enthusiasts the very fact that the topic has been brought up at all has come as a crushing blow. Bild, the mass tabloid, yesterday referred to the claims as "the most horrendous accusation in the history of football".

This is an odd story. Sustained excellence, which even my English friends will admit has been produced by the German team for decades, is unlikely to stem from a one-off set of injections. Nevertheless, the claim that the syringes were filled with Vitamin C sounds dubious from this vantage point.