10 Most Controversial World Cup Refereeing Decisions of All Time
With the World Cup such a huge spectator occasion, mistakes and controversial decisions are even more under the microscope.
English referee Howard Webb was in the spotlight during Brazil's second-round clash with Chile on Saturday when he and his assistant elected to rule out a Hulk goal for handball, with replays proving inconclusive.
With Webb's decision in mind, we elected to take a look through the archives for some past controversies.
So what are the most controversial decisions and mistakes that have been made in World Cup competitions down the years? Here's the top 10.
Thierry Henry Handball: France vs. Republic of Ireland 2009
Cheating slightly as this incident was in the World Cup qualifiers, but it’s certainly one of the worst examples of an injustice that there’s ever been in the competition.
In the playoffs between France and Republic of Ireland, Les Bleus striker Thierry Henry used his hand deliberately to control a ball that came into him in the area, before squaring a cross to the free William Gallas who scored from close range (h/t BBC Sport).
The minute the ball crossed the line for a goal, a cluster of Republic of Ireland players charged at referee Martin Hansson to signal it was a handball, but it was to no avail. The goal stood, and France qualified for the 2010 World Cup at the expense of Republic of Ireland.
Premature Final Whistle: France vs. Argentina 1930
In the first ever World Cup in 1930, France—who were 1-0 down at the time—were robbed of a point after Marcel Langiller was through on goal and about to potentially equalise, only for the referee Antonio Rego to blow the whistle six minutes before he was supposed to, which meant France lost (h/t Wikipedia).
After protests from the French players, Rego brought the players back on the pitch to play the last few minutes, realising his error, but France failed to score in the short time and Argentina won the game.
Two Offside Goals Given: USSR vs. Belgium 1986
USSR felt cheated in the 1986 tournament after losing 4-3 to Belgium in extra time in the last 16. Twice USSR led in the game, and twice Belgium equalised through offside goals.
Replays of the incident show how USSR can feel a sense of injustice with regard to the way they lost the game. (h/t YouTube) Skip to 2:00 for Belgium’s first equalising goal, and 6:40 for their second.
Josep Simunic's Three Yellow Cards: Croatia vs. Australia 2006
Croatia defender Josep Simunic was awarded three yellow cards by referee Graham Poll in their match against Australia in the 2006 World Cup (h/t BBC Sport).
His first yellow came just after the hour mark. His second was in the dying minutes of the game, but he wasn’t sent off. Just three minutes later he was given another booking and a subsequent red following an altercation with Poll.
The incident led the referee to retire from international action.
Frank Lampard Disallowed Goal: England vs. Germany 2010
During England’s second-round game against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, the Three Lions, who were 2-1 down at the time, thought they had scored an unlikely equaliser after midfielder Frank Lampard struck a long-range effort that rebounded off the underside of the bar and over the goal line.
However, the goal wasn’t given and England went on to lose 4-1—exiting the tournament in the process.
(h/t BBC Sport)
Rudi Voller's Dive: West Germany vs. Argentina 1990
West Germany scored a controversial winning-goal in the 1990 final against Argentina. The match was poised to go to extra time, with both sides level in the last few minutes of normal time, until Germany’s Rudi Voller fell in the box and was awarded a penalty by referee Edgardo Codesal.
Andreas Brehme scored the resulting penalty which sealed West Germany’s third World Cup triumph.
(h/t YouTube) Skip to 7:15
Schmacher’s 'Foul' on Battiston: France vs. West Germany 1982
One of the most memorable incidents in World Cup history saw West Germany goalkeeper Harald Schumacher "fouling" France’s Patrick Battiston, who was through on goal in the 1982 semi-final, with the game tied at 1-1.
Battiston was one-on-one with Schumacher and flicked the ball over the goalkeeper’s head. But he was taken out by the German shot-stopper and left unconscious on the floor as a result (h/t YouTube).
The game was paused after Battiston received oxygen, before being stretchered off. He briefly slipped into a coma and damaged his vertebrae, while losing three teeth.
The controversy was that the referee, Charles Corver, didn't give any free-kick.
France went on to lose on penalties to West Germany.
Co-Host Conspiracy: South Korea 2002
The 2002 World Cup was littered with controversy after allegations of co-hosts South Korea having been favoured by the match officials en route to their run to the semi-finals.
South Korea faced Italy in the second round, and were lucky to progress after Italy had a goal wrongly disallowed, and their long-serving forward Francesco Totti sent off for diving, when replays showed he lost his footing.
Spain had two goals disallowed against Korea too, which led to many remembering the 2002 tournament for the co-hosts’ good fortune.
Diego Maradona’s ’Hand of God’ Goal: Argentina vs. England 1986
Argentina forward Diego Maradona scored one of the most memorable goals in World Cup history after he used his hand to score against England in the 1986 quarter-final.
With England goalkeeper Peter Shilton about to claim a misplaced clearance, Maradona jumped high and punched the ball over Shilton’s head, which put Argentina 1-0 up.
Despite the England players’ protests, referee Ali Bin Nasser was unmoved and allowed the goal to stand.
Maradona scored one of the greatest goals in World Cup history in the same game, but many England fans are still sore about the "Hand of God", as Maradona cheekily referred to it afterwards.
Geoff Hurst’s Phantom Goal: England vs. West Germany 1966
Proof that errors do level themselves out over time, England had the biggest slice of luck in the 1966 final when Geoff Hurst scored a controversial goal. The game was in extra time and level at 2-2 when the striker hit the underside of the bar with an effort that bounced on the line and out.
But the referee and linesman awarded it as a goal. Replays showed the ball didn’t cross the line, and England went on to score a fourth goal in the game to seal their first and only World Cup victory.
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