Biggest scandals and shocks in World Cup history

Brazil’s World Cup has had great goals, great games and a great atmosphere. But it was missing the spice of scandal that made previous tournaments stick in the memory.

Until now.

Luis Suárez’s  apparent biting of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini has left the Uruguayan striker’s future in the tournament at the mercy of a Fifa investigation.

But this is not the first time the unexpected has caused uproar – there have been other, equally mad moments during World Cup matches when players have lost their heads and referees have lost the plot.

The Hand of God
Argentina’s Diego Maradona is considered the closest challenger to Pele for the world’s best ever player. But perhaps his most memorable moment came at the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals in Mexico, when he punched the ball into England’s net to give Argentina a 1-0 lead. To the fury of England’s players, Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser thought it was a header and awarded the goal.

The game was played amid simmering tension between the countries after the Falklands War a few years earlier. Maradona stoked the fires further after the game by saying the goal was righteous and scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”, giving it an iconic name and a place in World Cup folklore.

Typically for Maradona, who was as brilliant as he was belligerent, he scored one of the most amazing World Cup goals minutes later when he dribbled past half of England’s team to score the goal that secured Argentina a 2-1 win. Maradona and Argentina went on to lift the World Cup trophy.

Colour slides of Diego Maradona’s infamous Hand of God goal from the vast collection of historic photographs stored in the Hulton Archive in London, England. (Getty)

Arguably the most argued over goal
Long before the days of goal-line technology and high-definition replays, Geoff Hurst scored probably the most argued over goal in World Cup history, in England’s 4-2 win over West Germany in the 1966 final.

With the scores locked at 2-2 in extra time, Hurst’s powerful shot ricocheted down off the crossbar and on to the ground, but had it crossed the line? England’s players said yes, West Germany’s players said no.

It was up to a linesman from the Soviet Union to decide. He gave the goal, and Germans still haven’t forgiven him. Modern studies suggest it was not a goal.

England celebrating after Geoff Hurst scored the controversial third goal against West Germany during the World Cup final at Wembley. (Getty)

Ninety minutes of bad calls
Individual bad calls by referees can be explained away, but a game full of them sparks conspiracy theories and the performance of Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno at the World Cup in 2002 still inflames Italians.

In the knockout game against co-host South Korea, Moreno made a litany of dubious calls. These included giving the South Koreans a contentious early penalty, sending off Italy striker Francesco Totti for a supposed dive and wrongly disallowing an extra-time “golden goal” winner by Damiano Tommasi. 

Italy lost the game 2-1, leaving fans speculating about a plot to keep the co-hosts in the tournament.

Moreno was sentenced to two and a half years in prison in 2011 after being caught trying to smuggle heroin into the United States.

Referee Byron Moreno showing Francesco Totti a red card. (Getty)

Zidane heads out of professional football
In 2006, Zinedine Zidane’s masterful performances dragged an otherwise mediocre France team to the World Cup final against Italy. He gave his country the lead from the penalty spot. Italy’s Marco Materazzi equalised.

Then, without warning, Zizou head-butted Materazzi in the chest in extra time and earned an instant red card. Zidane’s explosion was supposedly down to Materazzi insulting his sister.

Stunned fans watched Zidane walk off the pitch past the World Cup trophy, his shirt untucked and his career ended in the most dramatic way. Without him, France lost the penalty shootout. It was Zidane’s last professional game.

Michel Denisot interviews France captain Zinedine Zidane to explain his head-butting of Italy’s Marco Materazzi during the World Cup 2006 final. (Reuters)

Maradona too stimulated to play
Having served a ban for testing positive for cocaine while playing in Italy, Maradona was back at the World Cup in the US in 1994 – but not for long. He failed a doping test for five different banned stimulants and was chucked out of the tournament. 

Maradona reportedly told an Argentinian television station: “They have retired me from soccer … my soul is broken.”

Argentina captain Diego Maradona celebrates his team qualifying for World Cup 1994 after beating Australia 1-0. (Getty)

Schumacher knocks Battiston out of the game
There have been plenty of crunching tackles at the World Cup, but few – probably none – with the ferocity of West German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher’s assault on France’s Patrick Battiston in the 1982 semifinal.

Schumacher charged off his line and leapt into the onrushing Frenchman, knocking him unconscious.

Not only did Schumacher not get sent off or receive a yellow card, the referee didn’t even give a free kick. A measure of justice prevailed when Italy scored three times past Schumacher in the final.

Patrick Battiston is carried off the field with a damaged vertebrae, a broken jaw and the loss of four front teeth after the contentious collision with goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. (Getty)

Shamefaced match-fixing
There have always been rumours of teams coming to agreements before games to arrange a mutually beneficial result, but none were as shamefacedly obvious as West Germany’s fix with neighbour Austria in 1982. 

It was the final group game and the equation was specific: if West Germany won by one or two goals, both teams were through. Any more and Austria was out, while a draw or Austrian win would have sent the Germans home.

The teams knew what score was needed, because Algeria had played Chile the day before. West Germany went 1-0 up after 10 minutes, then both teams kicked the ball around pointlessly, barely breaking a sweat and ensuring they both qualified at Algeria’s expense. 

The story goes that one television commentator refused to commentate on the farce and another suggested people switch over to something else.

Marco Tardelli of Italy in action. West Germany went on to lose 3-1 to Italy in the World Cup 1982 final. (Getty)

Nowadays, the final group games at World Cup tournaments are played simultaneously to prevent such collusion. – Sapa-AP

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Gerald Imray
Gerald Imray works from South Africa. Associated Press. [email protected] if you have a story to tell. Follower of Johannesburg's mighty Lions. Gerald Imray has over 2884 followers on Twitter.

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