The 8 Most Controversial Moments in World Cup History

For all FIFA like to claim football is the beautiful game, the World Cup tends to throw up a few moments that shock and surprise. Here we run down the eight most controversial moments in the history of the tournament. Do you agree?

8) Zaire free kick, West Germany 1974

Some moments need context, some need explanation and some need justification. This one just needs watching.

It might be fair to say that this one moment, more than any other has been responsible for the casual racism that has followed African teams and players around since the 70s and is only just being overcome now.

That being said, it is hilarious.

7) Frank Rijkaard spits at Rudi Voller, Italia 90

Rudi Voller was a good footballer but, to England fans, no, all fans, he was a pantomime villain. He had awful hair and a face you’d never tire of slapping. Being German didn’t help him either.

Frank Rijkaard was a great footballer. He was loved by most fans, not just Dutch fans and respected as a good bloke.

In a tense match, Rijkaard fouled Voller and got himself booked. Looking back at it, it was definitely a booking. But the yellow meant that Rijkaard would miss the next round if Holland got through. Obviously realising he had nothing to lose and still incensed by Voller, Rijkaard got stuck in again earning both him and Voller a red card.

Obviously the ref had never watched the 1991 Origin and decided to send both players off together. Rijkaard, much to his shame, then decided to make a point to Voller by gobbing at his head. It was a good, old fashioned, proper gob onto the back of his head too, that dripped off Voller’s horrible perm. It was low, disgusting and shocking, but at least it was only at Rudi Voller.

6) They think it’s all over, England 1966

No World Cup controversy would be complete without reference to 1966, Russian linesmen and iconic commentary. If you’re English, you know the script.

England were in the World Cup final against “the Germans”, just 20 years after the war. It was at home, Wembley, in front of a huge crowd and The Queen. England in red, West Germany in white. In extra time, with the scores tied at 2 – 2, Geoff Hurst took the ball from a cross on the right, turned and unleashed a fierce drive that cannoned off the bar, over the line and out. Or did it?

West Germany were certain it hadn’t crossed the line and appealed to the ref, to the linesman, to the crowd…. to anyone. But no one cared. The Russian linesman confirmed it had crossed and England were in front.

Modern science has, apparently, proved that the ball didn’t cross the line. My very modern reading of the scorecard from that day has Geoff Hurst, 101st minute. Proof that modern science is wrong.

PS before you point it out, I know the iconic “they think it’s all over” commentary was for the 4th goal.

5) Diego “Karate Kid” Maradona, Spain 1982

No World Cup round up is complete without reference to El Diego. Spain 1982 was supposed to be the time the young Maradona took the world by storm. Handed the 10 shirt he was set to explode onto the world stage. He did, but not in the way anyone expected.

A good karate kick to the nuts/upper leg area of Joao Batista da Silva of Brazil earned him a red card and the first mention in this list.

4) Harald “Karate Kid 2” Schumacher, Spain 1982

Some refereeing decisions leave you scratching your head, this one left Frenchman Patrick Battiston looking for his teeth. A classic football move from the 70s – ball over the top, striker clean through on goal and the keeper rushing out. So far, so standard.

Then Harald Schumacher, the West German keeper, moves into karate kid mode. Instead of trying to head or kick the ball, he decided to throw himself at Battiston and try and take his head off. Battison suffered a concussion, required oxygen after passing out on the pitch and lost three teeth.

Outside a pub on a Friday night, it would be a six month sentence for common assault. In rugby, it would be a 3 month ban. In the World Cup, the ref gave a goal kick and waved play on. Unreal.


3) MMA meets OMG! for FFR, Germany 2006

Zinedine Zidane. If he’s not been the best player of the last 25 years, he’s certainly in the top 3. He won trophies everywhere and played the game like he had a different rule book to everyone else. He was, quite simply, beautiful to watch.

Until he played Italy in the 2006 World Cup final. Wound up throughout the game by Marco Materazzi, he snapped, proving that my tantrums in Sunday league football also affect the Gods. But he was too classy to hack at someone after the ball had gone, to leave in a sly elbow while up for a header or something that mortals do. Nope, Zidane went for the MMA/Tekkon/Street Fighter finishing move – a MASSIVE head but to Materazzi’s chest.

Footballers are well known for over reacting to the slightest touch, but this head but genuinely knocked Materazzi off his feet and brought the curtain down on Zizou’s glorious international career. It was genuinely mental to watch!

2) Hand of God, Mexico 1980

Oh look, it’s El Diego again!

In the long line of England failures since 1996, Mexico 86 is probably the one that hurts the most. England had a team to win that competition, even in alien conditions that the blazing sun of Mexico provided.

Against Argentina, with the guns of the Falklands campaign still smoking, national pride was at stake more than ever before. Maradona was on his A game that day, and scored probably the best goal the World Cup has ever seen (although it has some stiff competition). But it was “the other goal” that English fans will remember him for long after he’s gone.

With the game at 0-0, Maradona cheated his way to a goal that no England fan will ever forget. Maradona is about the size of the average Oompa Loompa and as a ball looped up and England’s giant goalie, Peter Shilton, rushed out, the imp managed to out jump him and head the ball into the goal. There were three people in the ground who didn’t see the cheating little sod use his hand to beat Shilton to the ball: the ref and his two linesmen. Even the Argentinian players couldn’t believe he got away with it.

England lost, the Argies won, the hurt goes on.

My mother, bless her soul, keeps telling me this event needs renaming, because God would never cheat. Maybe she has a point, but that campaign hasn’t got a great deal of momentum just yet.


1) Andres Escobar own goal , USA 1994

The outcome of this was easily the most harrowing of any of these controversial moments. In 1994, Colombia were tipped to do well at the World Cup in the USA. They had a squad of quality players, partly because they were being financed – overtly and covertly – by the drug cartels. Chiefly, Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel, who funded teams, built stadia and had kick abouts with the national team… while “behind bars”!

Colombia’s captain, Andres Escobar (no relation to Pablo), was a pin up boy for the squad. He was tipped for big things in Europe. According to Barry Glendinning’s excellent description of the situation, Andres Escobar helped keep the squad together after several players received death threats.

Against this backdrop, Escobar made one simple, yet honest mistake. Against the USA he slid to clear the ball and deflected it into his own goal. Colombia lost the game and were heading home after the group stages. If anyone in Colombia thought that was as bad as it gets, they were wrong. Weeks later Andres Escobar was gunned down in a night club. He had got into a disagreement with some local thugs who wouldn’t accept that his mistake was just that.

Some of the facts of his murder are unclear, but it is clear that some unsavoury guys lost a bundle of cash on Colombia that year and Andres made a perfect fall guy. After his murder, Colombians took a stand against the cartels like never before. But that didn’t stop them trying to bribe judges and have a body guard take the prison sentence for the murder.

The intertwined stories of Pablo and Andres Escobar are the subject of an ESPN documentary, the two Escobar’s, and this stunning piece in the Guardian. Both are worth spending some time reviewing.

Recent Comments

    Recent Posts

    Andi Jarvis Written by:

    Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply