World Cup 2014: 10 Most Controversial Moments from Group Stage
The world football community should probably be very thankful that the controversies from the group stage of the 2014 World Cup tournament have emanated mostly from the pitch.
That's not to say that civil unrest is not ongoing in Brazil, nor that there isn't a threat of something quite bad happening at one or more of the elimination matches to come.
It is reminiscent, though, of the media build-up to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Before those Games began, reports of imminent danger to the athletes and the fans were seemingly omnipresent. In retrospect, the Sochi games were a huge success from a security standpoint.
Spare a thought, then, for how fortunate we are to be able to revel without recrimination or regret in the following 10 ridiculous "controversies" from the first two weeks of this World Cup.
10. Brazil Gets a Very Early Gift, as If They Need One
Brazil is the host country in this World Cup. The Brazilians are also one of the dominant forces in world football. Life is hard enough for their opposition when the site is neutral and the whistle blows fairly.
When Brazil is playing on home soil and getting the calls, though, playing them is a living nightmare. Just ask Croatia.
"Brazil downed Croatia 3-1 in controversial fashion...as the World Cup got off to an emotional start in Sao Paulo," wrote Jamie Trecker for Fox Sports. "Neymar scored twice, the winner coming off a hotly contested goal from the penalty spot."
Croatia's coach, Niko Kovac, was not pleased: ''If that was a penalty, we should be playing basketball.''
Asked for comment, basketball said something about soccer having a lot of nerve calling basketball soft.
9. Diego Maradona: 'Jinx'
Sometimes you have to wonder whether Diego Maradona is in on the joke.
"Diego Maradona made an obscene gesture against the president of the Argentinian Football Association, Julio Grondona, on live television after the administrator had suggested Argentina scored against Iran because 'jinxed' Maradona had left the stadium by then," Reuters reported.
As is his wont, Maradona did not leave well enough alone. He punctuated his retort with a jibe.
“'Jinx this,' Maradona said, looking at the camera of Venezuela’s Telesur broadcaster for which he works as a commentator at the World Cup and holding up his middle finger in response to Grondona’s comments to reporters," the report continued.
8. German-American Collusion That Never Came to Pass
This bit of controversy would have finished higher on this list had it actually happened.
Germany and the United States had the rare luxury of knowing that a draw in their final Group G match would put them both through to the knockout stage of the tournament.
Quickly, the world football media seized on the possibility that Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low would agree to a mutually beneficial point apiece. Then the match started, and any such talk was thrown out of the window.
Germany jumped on the Americans at the beginning of both halves and fairly well dominated proceedings en route to a 1-0 victory. The Americans survived anyway thanks to Portugal's win over Ghana.
7. Klinsmann Complains About the Schedule
Maybe those moments after the United States was denied a sure berth to the round of 16 in the World Cup by letting Portugal score right before the final whistle were not the best time to ask Jurgen Klinsmann how he felt about having to earn a result against Germany in Recife to guarantee survival.
"We have one day less to recover. They played yesterday, we played today. We played in the Amazon, they played in the locations where they don't have to travel as much. Everything was done for the big favorites to move on. We have to do it the tough way but we're going to do it the tough way," said Klinsmann per Eric Freeman of Yahoo Sports.
Klinsmann had a point, sort of. Brooks Peck's report on Yahoo Sports graphically set out just what the Americans were up against from a travel standpoint, to say nothing of the climatological challenges they faced.
But complaining about the schedule is always a loser's game.
6. England's Best Are Not All in
"Harry Redknapp has questioned the commitment of young English players to the national team cause, claiming there were certain individuals during his time at Tottenham who tried to find ways of skipping international duty," wrote John Drayton in the Daily Mail.
This is news? Professional athletes in many sports have been known to come up with phantom injuries or maladies to avoid comparatively low-paying work in the service of their country of birth. If LeBron James can do it, why can't an English footballer?
Maybe because the English media gets its collective knickers in a twist more quickly and more forcefully. Plus, agitators like Redknapp do a lot of the work for them.
"And I think it's only going to get worse. You see the stick the England players get and they come home, they're earning fantastic money at their clubs, they're all playing in the Champions League," Redknapp harrumphed.
5. Luis Suarez Wants to Leave Liverpool
As you might imagine, Luis Suarez will make another appearance later in this countdown. For now, let's deal with what we all thought would be the big news Suarez would make in Brazil.
Until recent days, the buzz around Suarez was that he wanted out of Liverpool.
Chris McKenna's report in the Daily Star included the following: "Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid are both keen on the Uruguay superstar. Reports in Spain claim Suarez wants to quit Anfield, despite only signing a new five-year deal in December."
Heaven only knows what Barcelona and Real Madrid think of Suarez now.
4. Arrivederci, Prandelli
Italy had huge World Cup expectations in 2014. None of them included elimination in the group stage.
But that is exactly what happened to the Azzurri, and their coach Cesare Prandelli took it sort of hard.
After a controversial bite and a defeat to Uruguay, the Italians suffered one final loss in Brazil when coach Cesare Prandelli announced his resignation Tuesday in a post-match news conference," wrote Matt Wilhalme for the Los Angeles Times.
Beating a bad team did nothing for Prandelli's prospects. Wilhalme continued: "Italy’s sole victory of the tournament came against England, another team eliminated in group play."
Mark Ogden of the Independent had the dirt on what really made Prandelli quit. "Picking [Mario] Balotelli was my mistake," Prandelli said.
3. Yaya Toure Is Unhappy with Manchester City Again
Yaya Toure led Manchester City to their second Premier League title in three years in the 2013-14 season.
Since the season ended, though, everything coming from the Ivorian suggests that he'd just as soon leave the Sky Blues behind.
First Toure complained that City did not properly observe his 31st birthday. It was all right to laugh at that, even if Toure did not ultimately think it was funny.
It is certainly not all right to laugh at Toure's latest claims, however off base they may or may not be.
"Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure has spoken of his sadness following the death of his brother Ibrahim and suggested that his club did not offer him sufficient support during a period which he describes as 'the hardest in my life,'" wrote Adam Crafton for the Daily Mail.
2. Poor Officiating Essentially Gets Its Own Wikipedia Page
A Google search for "2014 World Cup controversy" leads you to this Wikipedia page, which recites the officiating problems the tournament has seen.
Granted, Wikipedia is not exactly the New York Times from an accuracy perspective, but this compilation of obvious referee errors and dodgy judgments is quite thorough and remarkably correct.
If the officials negatively impacted the results of eight matches, as the Wikipedia account suggests, that means one in six group stage matches suffered because of poor or missed decisions.
And this is the most important tournament in world football?
1. Man Bites Man, Again
Whatever happens between now and the end of the World Cup will have to be pretty spectacular to keep this tournament from being remembered for Suarez biting another opponent.
FIFA came down hard on Suarez for this latest transgression, banning Suarez from nine international matches and tacking on a four-month suspension from all football for good measure.
"The incident took place near the end of a match in which Uruguay and Italy struggled to generate attacking chances," wrote Sam Borden for the New York Times.
"Ten minutes before the end of the game, with the score tied, 0-0, Suarez ran into the penalty area and collided with Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini. Suarez appeared to drop his face into Chiellini’s shoulder, and Chiellini immediately recoiled as both players fell to the ground."
The World Cup will go on without Suarez, which is a shame for both Suarez and the World Cup.