Ranking the 10 Biggest Blunders in World Cup History

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistJune 8, 2014

Ranking the 10 Biggest Blunders in World Cup History

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    LUCA BRUNO/Associated Press

    The World Cup has the ability to create legends and unforgettably joyous moments that are shared by a global community who love the sport.

    However, the tournament can also become a highly visible platform for human error. While mistakes often seem amusing, they have the ability to haunt a player's career, creating devastating—and in one case fatal—consequences. 

    Here's our ranking of the biggest blunders in World Cup history... 

10. Robert Green's Unsafe Hands

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    This list could be largely populated by England errors if we included all the penalty shootouts, but it's goalkeeper Rob Green who makes it for his howler against the United States in the Three Lions' opening group game of the 2010 World Cup. 

    Faced with making a routine save from a hopeful, long-range Clint Dempsey shot, Green somehow managed to spill into his own net for an American equaliser.

    Without that error, England may have won the game and the group, and faced Ghana instead of a pummeling from Germany in the round of 16.  

9. Mwepu Ilunga's Free-Kick Interception

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    In 1974, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) made their debut at the World Cup Finals. In their third and final group game, they faced Brazil, whose attempts to take a free-kick outside the box were thwarted when defender Mwepu Ilunga broke from the wall to kick the ball away before it was in play.

    Ilunga was cautioned, and it appeared he was not aware of the rules.

    Some years later, however, he told the BBC that he actually did it on purpose in an attempt to earn a red card. A likely story.  

8. Charles Corver's Failure to Punish Harald Schumacher

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    Dutch referee Charles Corver was put in charge of the 1982 semi-final between Germany and France.

    With the scores level in the 60th minute, Patrick Battiston went for a 50-50 loose ball with German keeper Harald Schumacher and came off rather worse for wear. In fact, the Frenchman was knocked unconscious, slipped into a coma and lost three teeth.

    An incident that deserved a red card was instead followed by a goal kick for Germany, who went on to win the match on penalties.

    Corver's blunder was not well-received, but a French newspaper subsequently polled its readers on the least popular man in France, and it was Schumacher who placed at No. 1—above Adolf Hitler. 

7. Zinedine Zidane's Head-Butt

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    The 2006 World Cup Final was the last game of Zinedine Zidane's glittering career. By the time Les Bleus met Italy in Berlin, Zizou had done enough to earn the Golden Ball at the tournament, so the stage was set for him to sign off from the beautiful game by winning the big trophy for his country, as he had done in 1998.

    But it wasn't to be.

    During extra time, Marco Materazzi said something offensive enough to prompt the talismanic midfielder to head-butt him in the chest. Without their best penalty taker, France subsequently lost the shootout—and the Real Madrid star stepped away from the game in a cloud of controversy. 

6. Graham Poll's Triple Trouble

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    At the 2006 World Cup, English ref Graham Poll took charge of the feisty Group F match between Croatia and Australia. 

    Having already sent off a player on each side, Poll issued Josip Simunic with his second yellow of the game in the 90th minute. However, the defender stayed on the field and was given a third yellow card in the 93rd minute for dissent. Only at that point, and with a few seconds to go, did he receive his marching orders. 

    Poll had apparently noted his second yellow but in the wrong column of his notebook, assigning it to Australia's No. 3 instead. 

    The match finished 2-2, and the Socceroos went through to the knockout stages, but had they lost, Sepp Blatter claimed they would have had a right to a replay. 


5. Rene Higuita's Fanciful Dribbling

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    Rene Higuita was, and still is, as mad as a box of frogs.

    The Colombian goalkeeper—famous for his free-kick ability, his scorpion kick and for going to prison for assisting Pablo Escobar with a kidnapping—made a terrible mistake a long way from his own goal in a round of 16 match with Cameroon at Italia '90. 

    Colombia were 1-0 down in extra time when Higuita advanced into the middle third of the field and attempted to navigate the ball past Roger Milla with some kind of Cruyff turn. He was immediately dispossessed, and Milla went on to score one of his four goals at Italia 90. 

    Thanks to Higuita's ricky antics, Colombia went on to lose 2-1 and were eliminated. 

4. Roberto Baggio's Missed Penalty

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    Up until the penalty shootout between Brazil and Italy that decided the fate of the 1994 World Cup, Roberto Baggio's biggest blunder was his decision to braid his ponytail. 

    Stepping up to take the Azzurri's fifth spot-kick, the Juventus striker needed to convert to prevent Brazil from winning. However, his effort flew several feet over the bar, and the Selecao burst into celebration.

    Baggio's teammates Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro had also missed their penalties, but it's the terrible spot-kick of The Divine Ponytail that everyone remembers. 

3. Moacir Barbosa's Maracana Blow

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    One of the biggest upsets in football history occurred at the Maracana in 1950, when World Cup hosts Brazil fully expected to defeat South American rivals Uruguay in the deciding game of the tournament. 

    The collective sound of 200,000 jaws hitting the floor rang through the stadium when Uruguay pulled off a 2-1 victory. It was devastating, and locals refer to it as the "Maracanazo" ("Maracana Blow").

    Someone had to be blamed for the tragedy, and that man was Brazil goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa, who allowed Alcides Ghiggia to beat him at his near post for the winner. The public never forgave him. 

    Speaking on his 79th birthday in 2000, a fortnight before he died, Barbosa said, per Alex Bellos of The Guardian"Under Brazilian law the maximum sentence is 30 years. But my imprisonment has been for 50 years."

2. Ali Bin Nasser Misses the Hand of God

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    This blunder was created by a failure to spot outrageous cheating, but it is a blunder nonetheless. 

    England's quarter-final match with Argentina in 1986 was goalless in the second half when Diego Maradona opened the scoring in controversial circumstances. Referee Ali Bin Nasser saw nothing suspicious about the 5'5" Maradona beating 6'1" goalkeeper Peter Shilton in the air, and a goal that was punched into the net was allowed to stand. 

    To make matters worse, three minutes later Saint Diego compounded the Three Lions' misery by scoring the Goal of the Century

    If Nasser had kept up with play and spotted the infringement, the diminutive forward would have been booked and would not have been granted that same magical moment to score the winner.  

1. Andres Escobar's Own Goal

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    No World Cup blunder has been as costly as Andres Escobar's own goal at USA '94, which might have resulted in his tragic murder.

    Colombia, who were touted as a promising dark horse at the tournament, needed a group-stage win against the U.S. to stand a chance of progressing. In the 35th minute, however, defender Escobar diverted a John Harkes cross into his own net. The South Americans lost the match 2-1 while the hosts progressed in their place.

    Just 10 days later, Escobar was shot and killed in Medellin, Colombia, in what is believed to be a fatal punishment from Colombian drug lords who had taken significant gambling losses after the team's exit.  


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