For one reason or another soccer, seems to have more controversial moments than most other sports. Perhaps it’s the antiquated rules, the sub-par officiating, or the general ineptness of FIFA. It seems like a World Cup doesn’t go by in which there aren’t at least half a dozen shocking moments. To make matters worse, these take place both on and off of the pitch.
There are dozens of shocking and controversial World Cup incidents to choose from and we’ve tried to narrow it down to the 10 most-debatable moments. We’ve stayed away from hooligans rioting in the streets and stuck to plays that (more or less) took place on the pitch. The World Cup has enjoyed thousands of moments to be proud of, but these 10 aren’t among them.
10. Harald Schumacher Knocks Out Patrick Battiston
One of the most violent World Cup injuries ever took place in Spain 1982, in a semifinal match between West Germany and France. The two European nations were level at 1-1 in the 58th minute when France’s Patrick Battiston was racing towards the German goal in hopes of getting to a loose ball before German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.
The keeper came charging off of his goal line, but Battiston got to the ball first and managed to get a shot away (which trickled wide). However, Schumacher didn’t stop and then left his feet as he steamrolled into the attacker with his body. Battiston was knocked out cold, lost three of his teeth, damaged his vertebrae, and later slipped into a coma. Schumacher should have been thrown out of the game and probably arrested, but the referee simply awarded a goal kick after Battiston was stretchered off.
9. French Goal Reversed
Staying with the 1982 World Cup in Spain, France were in the headlines in the group stage as well, when they got the short end of the stick for the first time in the event. The Europeans were leading Kuwait 3-1 when their opponents seemed to stop playing for a few seconds. The French took advantage of the moment and scored to go ahead 4-1. However, Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah of Kuwait, who was the president of his country’s football association, came down to field level to protest.
Al-Sabah argued that his players heard a whistle and that’s why they all stood around and watched while France scored. He said he’d pull his players from the pitch if the goal stood since somebody in the crowd must have blown a whistle. Ukrainian referee Miroslav Stupar then disallowed the goal and the game went on. The final score? France 4 – Kuwait 1.
8. Josip Simunic Receives Three Yellow Cards
You’d think a FIFA referee would know how to count. But English official Graham Poll had difficulty with this simple task while officiating a group match between Croatia and Australia in 2006. Poll gave Josip Simunic of Croatia a yellow card in the 61st minute, but didn’t write the offender’s name in his notebook. In the 90th minute, Simunic received a second yellow, meaning he should have been ejected from the match. He stayed on the pitch though, as nobody ordered him off it. But at least Poll wrote his name down this time.
At the final whistle, Simunic received another yellow and Poll showed him a red, believing it was his second yellow when it was actually his third. None of the assistant officials noticed the error and Poll took full blame after the 2-2 draw. However, he and his crew were sent home after the group stage.
7. Record Number of Cards in Battle of Nuremberg
Staying with the 2006 tournament in Germany, Holland and Portugal faced off in the Round of 16 when all hell broke loose. Neither team was known for dirty play, but referee Valentin Ivanov of Russia didn’t see things that way once the match kicked off. Ivanov ended up handing out four red cards and 16 yellows during the contest, which are World Cup records for each color.
The card parade started as early as the second minute when Holland’s Marco Van Basten was booked. Portugal’s Luis Figo probably should have been the fifth man sent off, but he received just a yellow for headbutting Mark van Bommel in the 60th minute. Portugal won 1-0, but not before Khalid Boulahrouz and Giovanni van Bronckhorst were sent of for Holland and Costinho and Deco were ejected for Portugal.
6. The Battle of Santiago
The Battle of Santiago didn’t result in as many ejections as the Battle of Nuremberg, but was definitely a more violent game. This one took place in Chile 1962 between the host nation and Italy. In fact, yellow cards didn’t exist in 1962, but were invented later by Ken Aston, who just happened to referee this game. Aston blew for the first foul after just 12 seconds and handed out the first red to Italy 11 minutes later.
However, Giorgio Ferrini refused to leave the pitch until the police came out and escorted him off. The contest featured numerous punches, a couple of unconscious players and at least one broken nose. Italy’s Mario David was also sent off for kicking an opponent in the head in the 41st minute. The riot cops came onto the pitch three more times and Aston should have ejected several more players. The BBC called it the stupidest, most appalling, disgusting, and disgraceful game of football ever.
5-England’s 1966 Game-Winner vs West Germany
One of the most debated incidents in World Cup history took place during the 1966 final between hosts England and West Germany. The Germans tied the game 2-2 in the final minute to force extra time. Eleven minutes later, England’s Geoff Hurst appeared to score when his shot smashed off of the crossbar, bounced downwards to the goal line and then back out into the field of play. It happened so fast and was virtually impossible to tell if the ball crossed the goal line.
Referee Gottfried Dienst of Sweden asked linesman Tofik Bahramov of the former Soviet Union (Azerbaijan) what he thought since he was closer to the play. Bahramov believed the original shot had actually bounced downwards from the underside of the net and not the crossbar, so it didn’t matter if the ball crossed the goal line or not when it hit the ground. The goal was awarded and Hurst scored his third of the game just before the final whistle to give England a 4-2 win and their first (and only) World Cup championship. The film of the play has been analyzed over and over again for years, but there’s still no definitive proof if the ball crossed the line or not. But according to Bahramov it didn’t matter.
4. Frank Lampard’s Goal Not Given in 2010
There was another highly-controversial moment regarding a shot crossing the goal line when Germany and England got together again in South Africa 2010. This time there is definitive proof that the ball crossed the line, though it was England who came out on the wrong end of the decision this time. Germany was up 2-0 after 32 minutes and looked like they might run away with the game. However, England clawed back to make it 2-1 just five minutes later and started to press the action.
Just two minutes later they appeared to tie the game 2-2 when Frank Lampard’s long shot hit the crossbar and bounced downwards and over the goal line. The ball clearly crossed the line by about three feet, which was proven by still photos and video footage. The backspin on the ball caused it to bounce back out of the goal. However, referee Jorge Larrionda of Uruguay refused to give it. Instead of going into halftime tied 2-2, England had to stay aggressive in the second half to try and find (another) equalizer. Germany then scored twice in the last 23 minutes to win 4-1.
3. Zinidine Zidane’s Infamous Headbutt
As they say, “if you can’t handle the heat then get out of the kitchen.” French midfielder Zinedine Zidane must have missed this piece of wisdom, as he lost his cool against Italy during the 2006 Final. The game was level in extra time with 10 minutes to go when Zidane drove his head forcefully into the chest of chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi.
He was sent off for violent conduct, but the game was still tied after 120 minutes. Italy went on to win 5-3 in a penalty shootout, and Zidane would surely have been France’s list of spottakers. It was later reported that Materazzi riled Zidane up by making lewd remarks about the French player’s mother and sister. Zidane let his teammates and nation down with his actions, all due to some schoolyard taunting by Materazzi, who later admitted to insulting his opponent’s sister, but not his mother. It was the last game in Zidane’s otherwise brilliant career.
2. Diego Maradona’s Hand of God Goal
Former Argentine great Diego Maradona’s life has basically been filled with one controversy after another, but his highlight (or lowlight) took place in 1986. Argentina was facing England in a quarterfinal match in Mexico with the score 0-0 in the 51st minute. Maradona and England goalkeeper Peter Shilton both came out to challenge for a ball in the box and it appeared Shilton would easily get to it first, since he was eight inches taller.
Both players jumped for the ball with Shilton aiming to punch it away. However, it was Maradona who got to it with his fist, as he punched it into the net. Television replays and photos clearly caught the act of cheating, but a goal was given, which came to be known as “The Hand of God” when Maradona referred to it as such after the match. Maradona would go on to score one of the best goals in World Cup history later in the match, as Argentina won 2-1 and then went on to win the Cup.
1. Andres Escobar Murdered for Scoring Own Goal
This despicable incident was one of the worst in the history of all sports, not just the World Cup. It was tied to the 1994 tournament in America when Colombian defender Andres Escobar inadvertently scored an own goal in a group match against the U.S. The Americans went on to win 2-1 and the result meant Colombia would be eliminated after the group stage, a disappointing end for a team that was expected to compete for a championship.
The game took place on June 22 and just over a week later, the 27-year-old Escobar was shot to death outside of a bar in the city of Medellin in his home country. Three men began arguing with him and two of them pulled guns. Escobar was shot six times and died at hospital 45 minutes later. The shooters reportedly shouted “goal’ after each bullet was fired. Over 120,000 people attended Escobar’s funeral and a statue was erected in his honor. One of the murderers admitted to the crime, saying he had bet a lot of money on the game. The drug-cartel member served just 11 years before being released for good behavior.