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The 12 Biggest Controversies in World Cup History

by: Esteban On  Friday, May 30, 2014

world cup controversies

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is just a few weeks away, so, quite understandably, people are started to get excited. This is, after all, the biggest sporting event on earth, and it will be filled with beautiful goals, breakout performances, dramatic upsets, and probably one or two triumphs of the human spirit.

That being said, it will also have it’s fair share of controversies. Because this is soccer, and there are always controversies in soccer.

Will any of the controversies at the 2014 World Cup prove historic? Only time will tell. But until then, get acquainted with the controversies on this list. They’ll give you a little historical context for the events that will unfold over the next six weeks.


12. Ref Issues Three Yellow Cards to Same Player (2006)

In case you’re not familiar with the rules of the beautiful game, serious fouls are assessed yellow cards. When you get two of them, you get a red card. And that means you’re ejected from the game.

Here’s the thing, though. The referee has to write down who gets what. If he doesn’t, he’s probably going to forget—which is exactly what happened to referee Graham Poll in the 2006 World Cup.

During a match between Australia and Croatia, Poll gave Croatia’s Josip Simunic a yellow card but forgot to record it. Thus, when he gave Simunic a second yellow card, he didn’t realize it was his second and failed to eject him.

So when did Poll realize his mistake? When he issued Simunic a third yellow card. (And yes, he did get ejected at that point.)

The craziest thing in all this is that Poll was actually a well-respected referee. However, as a result of this blunder, he never refereed in the World Cup again.


11. Battle of Nuremberg (2006)

Any time a game gets a nickname, that means something notable happened.

The Battle of Neuremberg was a round of 16 game between Portugal and the Netherlands at the 2006 World Cup. What made it notable was the incredible combination of sloppy play and absolutely brutal officiating.

You see, both teams were tripping and diving and elbowing and grabbing, and this prompted referee Valentin Ivanov to crack down. But he ended up overreacting. Yes, he handed out cards to guys who deserved it. But he also started handing out cards to guys for giving dirty looks, or for parting their hair on the wrong side. It was just brutal.

In the end, the game set a World Cup record with 16 yellow cards and four red cards. And Ivanov’s performance was so bad, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he should have given himself a yellow card.


10. Schumacher Destroys Battiston (1982)

To this day, this is still the most violent injury in the history of the World Cup.

During the semifinal between West Germany and France in 1982, German keeper Harald Schumacher came out of the box to challenge France’s Patrick Battiston to a loose ball. Battiston got there first and shot the ball wide of the goal. However, Schumacher went out of his way to collide with his opponent.

The collision knocked out three of the Frenchman’s teeth and left him in a coma.

Fortunately, he did not die. But it was close.


9. Peru Tanks, Screwing Brazil (1978)

In 1978, Argentina hosted the world cup, and they expected their team to win.

The problem? Heading into the final group stage match against Peru, Argentina needed a 4-0 victory to leapfrog Brazil and move on to the next round.

Now, Argentina was much better than Peru. But 4-0 is a tall order, and Peru played valiently in the first half, holding the home sqaud to just two goals.

Then something fishy happened. Peru just collapsed in the second half. Argentina tacked on four goals to win 6-0, sending Brazil home. Then they went on to win the whole tournament.

Nobody knows if Peru tanked on purpose, but given the way the dictatorial Argentinian government did business back then, you can’t rule it out.


8. Kuwaiti Sheik Overrules Goal (1982)

Nope, not kidding. This happened. In 1982, tiny little Kuwait made its only appearance in the World Cup. While playing a group stage game against powerhouse France, trailing 3-1, the French added a fourth goal after Kuwaiti players heard a whistle in the crowd and stopped playing. (You can hear said whistle very clearly in the video.)

Outraged, Sheik Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, head of the Kuwaiti Football Association, stormed down onto the field and threatened to remove his players if the referee did not overturn the goal.

So they overturned the goal.



7. The Headbutt (2006)

At number eight we have one of the most shocking moments in sports history. With Italy and France tied 1-1 in overtime of the 2006 World Cup Final, the great Zinedine Zidane—the guy who’s inspired play got France to the World Cup Final in the first place—absolutely lost his mind and headbutted the Italy’s Marco Materazzi right in the sternum.

Obviously, the referees ejected France’s best player, and Italy went on to win the game on penalty kicks, 5-3.

Later it was revealed that Materazzi said some vile things about Zidane’s mother and sister. But still, you just can’t let an opponent get to you like that in such a big game.


6. Refs Send South Korea to Semis (2002)

The referees didn’t guarantee wins for home team South Korea against Italy and Spain in the 2002 World Cup. But they certainly helped make those wins possible.

Against Italy in the round of 16, the South Koreans were saved when referee Byron Morena disallowed an Italian goal with a questionable offside call. Then he sent Francesco Totti off for diving—when, in fact, he was tripped in the box—and South Korean eventually won.

Then, against Spain in the quarterfinal, referee Gamal Al-Ghandour disallowed two Spanish goals on questionable grounds, and one of his linesmen called pretty much every Spanish attack offside. South Korea eventually won that game, too.

If it had just been the game against Italy, people could have written this whole thing off. But after the game against Spain, outraged Southern Europeans smelled a conspiracy. And they had a point. FIFA forced both referees to retire after that.


5. Mussolini Trolls France (1938)

In 1938, with Europe on the brink of war, France was surrounded by fascists in Germany, Italy, and Spain. And, understandably, it made them a little bit uncomfortable.

So when they hosted the World Cup that year, tensions were high. And when the French played the Italians in the quarterfinals and their opponents took the field in all black (the color of fascism) rather than their typical road white, then performed a fascist salute during the national anthems—all under the orders of Benito Mussolini himself—people were enraged.

Unfortunately, France would go on to lose the game 3-1…and get occupied by Germany.


4. The Battle of Santiago (1962)

The Battle of Nuremberg may have had the most yellow and red cards ever handed out in a world cup game, but without a doubt the most violent game in World Cup history was Italy vs. Chile, 1962. The first ejection came just four minutes into the game, and riot cops had to come onto the field because the player wouldn’t leave. Then there were noses broken and sucker punches and guys knocked out cold.

It was all so bad that, when the game was shown on TV in Great Britain, legendary soccer announcer David Coleman warned people about what they were about to see:

“Good evening. The game you’re about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.”



3. The Geoff Hurst Goal (1966)

England may have invented soccer, and they may have the greatest soccer league on Earth, but they’ve only got one World Cup championship. It was won in 1966 on a goal by Geoff Hurst.

The problem? That goal wasn’t a goal. In the Final against West Germany, with the score tied 2-2, Hurst fired a shot that hit the crossbar and bounced straight down. The ball did not cross the goal line, but the referee overruled the linesman and awarded the goal.

That in itself is bad enough. But this story gets better. According to legend, on his deathbed, the referee, who was Russian, was asked why he called it a goal.

He then supposedly answered “Stalingrad,” and promptly died.

There’s no way that story is true. But it’s kind of fun to believe a Russian referee screws over West Germany because 20 million Soviets died in World War II.


2. The Hand of God (1986)

Diego Maradona was unreal in the 1986 World Cup, single-handed delivering Argentina its second championship. However, his utter mastery of the sport will always be overshadowed by the play known as “The Hand of God” against England in the quarterfinals–a cheeky term Maradona himself coined during the post-game press conference after sending England packing.

Of course, England fans will forever say that they were robbed by Maradona. But they rarely mention that the Hand of God goal only tied the game, and that it took another goal four minutes later—”The Goal of the Century“—to win it.

That said, the refs really blew it.


1. The Germanic Collusion (1982)

The most disgraceful game in World Cup history was played between West Germany and Austria in 1982.

That year, Algeria, West Germany, and Austria were in a group together, and things were really tight heading into the final game of group play. If West Germany won by three or more goals, Austria would be eliminated. If Austria won or tied, Germany would be eliminated. But if Germany won by two goals or fewer, Algeria would be eliminated.

So what happened? Ten minutes into the match, Germany scored. Then, for the final 80 minutes, the two teams just kicked the ball back and forth.

It was so obvious that the fix was on. The Austrian TV commentator was so disgusted that he refused to say a word for the final 30 minutes of the match. Meanwhile, the German TV commentator said the game was “disgraceful and has nothing to do with football.”

Poor Algeria.

Anyway, after this sad game, FIFA changed the rules. Now, the final games of the group stage are always played at the same time.