10 Biggest FIFA World Cup Controversies

The biggest sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup, has never been shy of controversies. In fact, there are very few sporting events held on such a huge scale that has thrown in as many conspiracies as the World Cup of Football. From a few isolated events to large-scale controversies that helped decide the eventual fate of the winners, the list of memorable events is endless. Perhaps it is the magnitude of the event itself that helps in generating so many controversies, but whatever be the reason, these moments only make us realize the value of the most coveted prize in sports. We have listed out the top 10 biggest controversies in the history of the FIFA World Cup till date:


The jubilant England team after winning the 1966 FIFA World Cup


Starting off with perhaps the biggest controversy of them all. The World Cup final in 1966 between England and Germany went into extra time with the game tied at 2-2. Eleven minutes into the extra-time period, England’s Geoff Hurst scored one of the most controversial goals in the history of FIFA World Cup.

The ball hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced down, and then was cleared out. The referee did not know if the ball had completely crossed the line. He looked at his linesman, a Soviet named Tofik Bakhramov, who indicated it was a goal.

Bakhramov later said he thought the ball had bounced back off the net, not the crossbar, so he did not bother to observe whether the ball bounced over the goal line or not.

Amazingly, Bakhramov, according to some, was asked on his deathbed how he knew the ball crossed the line. He replied, “Stalingrad,” a place where over 75,000 Soviets died fighting against the Nazis.



Referee Graham Poll brandishing the third Yellow Card to Simunic

In a group stage match between Croatia and Australia in 2006 World Cup in Germany, referee Graham Poll failed to properly record a yellow card for Croatia’s Josip Simunic.

When Simunic later received a second yellow card, Poll did not send him off, since he had inadvertently given Simunic’s first yellow to an Australian player.

Amazingly Simunic, who apparently was hell-bent on receiving a red card, was shown his third yellow card for showing dissent towards the referee and ultimately a red card. Graham Poll never officiated another World Cup match after this.



South Korea rode their luck against Italy and Spain on their way to a fairytale Semi-Final run

The tale of South Korea’s incredible fairytale run in the 2002 World Cup is as amazing as it can get. In front of their passionate supporters, South Korea created history by reaching as far as the Semi-Finals! But what people tend to forget is that they were quite lucky on more than a few occasions when it comes to game-changing refereeing decisions.

After the group stage, South Korea got their first “break” against Italy in the Round of 16, in which the referee (Byron Moreno of Ecuador), seemed hell-bent on ensuring the Koreans progressed, disallowing a perfectly fine Italian goal and controversially sending off Francesco Totti, for diving. Because of this, South Korea won 2-1 on a golden goal from Ahn Jung-Hwan.

And in the quarterfinal, South Korea once again got surprisingly lucky with some poor refereeing decisions as Egyptian Referee Gamal Al-Ghandour disallowed two perfectly fine Spanish goals and his linesmen judged one Spanish attack after another to be offside when they clearly weren’t, as South Korea went on to win 5-3 on penalties to reach the semi-finals.

Shortly after the World Cup, both referees were forced to retire due to match-fixing charges.



West Germany and Austria played out a controversial match in the 1982 World Cup   (Credit: Eurosport)

This game in 1982 was the reason behind the fact that the final group-stage matches are played at the same time. The group was quite delicately poised-

  • a draw or an Austrian win would eliminate West Germany
  • a German win by three or more goals would eliminate Austria
  • a German victory by one or two goals would eliminate Algeria.

After the West Germans scored 10 minutes into the match, the two sides basically kicked the ball around, doing very little, almost intentionally trying not to score. When the final 1-0 scoreline eliminated Algeria, the African side lodged a complaint with FIFA. Sadly, nothing came out of it.



The horror challenge on Batiston by goalkeeper Schumacher (Credit: Independent)

In the semi-final of the 1982 World Cup, West Germany was up against France. Substitute Patrick Battiston went into the box to chase down a loose ball when West German keeper Harald Schumacher went in with a full-blooded challenge causing Battiston to lose two teeth and suffer damaged vertebrae due to the collision and he nearly lost his life.

To add insult to injury, Dutch referee Charles Corver ruled the play to be a goal kick, not a penalty and a red card (which clearly should have been the call) and Schumacher made the final save on a penalty to get West Germany onto the finals, where they lost 3-1 to Italy.



The controversial fascist salute of the Italian Football team

In the most eagerly anticipated and politically charged game of the tournament, Italy met France in the quarter-finals. With both countries normally playing in blue, lots were drawn to decide who should change. Italy lost and rather than wear its traditional change color of white, the team was ordered to play in all-black. It is rumored that the decision to wear blacks came directly from Mussolini himself, as a message to all the anti-fascist movements and protestors. The already-charged atmosphere reached its boiling point when the Italian team gave the fascist right-arm salute before kickoff. The hostile crowd was silenced by a comfortable 3-1 Italian win as they produced their best performance of the tournament.



Medical attendants rush towards a Chilean player who lies injured on the ground while British referee Ken Aston (3rd from L) is pestered by the Italian defender Robotti (L, no 16) and midfielder Tumburus (2nd from L, no 20). Two Italian players were sent off whereby one player only left when police officers escorted him off the pitch. — Image by © -/dpa/Corbis

In probably the most violent game in the history of the World Cup, Italy and Chile literally fought it out for 90 minutes in 1962. The first foul occurred in the 12th second. The first red card was handed out in the 12th minute. There were blatant punches, kicks to the face, and policemen had to intervene no less than four times. The violence on the pitch was mainly triggered due to an article published by two Italian journalists who wrote unflattering articles about the host country and its capital city; describing Santiago as a “proudly backward and poverty-stricken dump full of prostitution and crime”.



Argentinean players celebrate against Holland

In the 1978 World Cup, Argentina had several controversial moments as they went on their way toward their first World Cup title.

The controversy began in the final match of Group B (which was in the Second Round). In that final match, Argentina had to beat Peru by at least four goals to get into the final over archrival Brazil. And Peru was able to knock six goals in past Peru’s keeper Ramón Quiroga (who bizarrely was born in Argentina) to get Argentina into the World Cup final.

In that final against the Netherlands, the Dutch were forced to take an extra-long route to the Estadio Monumental for the final, and shortly afterward they took to the pitch without the Argentinian National Team, which remained in their locker room for ten extra minutes, which forced the Dutch to face the hostile 70,000 plus Argentine fans screaming at them for ten minutes.

Due to these factors, Argentina was able to eventually beat the Netherlands by a 3-1 score in extra time to give Argentina a controversial first World Cup title.



Zinedine Zidane headbutts Marco Materazzi in the Final of the 2006 World Cup final

The best player in the world at that point of time, Zinedine Zidane took himself and France out of 2006 final when he headbutted Italian instigator Marco Materazzi in the chest. Materazzi, according to Zidane, made disparaging remarks about Zidane’s mother and sister. Italy won the match on penalties. Later, Zidane said he “would rather die” than apologise to Materazzi.



Diego Maradona scoring the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal at the 1986 World Cup (Credits: goal.com)

In the 1986 World Cup, Argentina took on England in the quarterfinals. Six minutes into the second half, the ball came into the England box and goalkeeper Peter Shilton and Argentina striker Diego Maradona went up for the ball with Shilton having an eight-inch height advantage over Maradona. Surprisingly, Maradona won the ball in the air and scored. Argentina would go on to win 2-1. Asked afterward about the goal, Maradona said it was scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios.” That translates to, “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” It was later learned through photographic evidence that it was all with the hand and no head.

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