World Football: Ranking the Top 10 Worst Referee Mistakes in History

Pauly Kwestel@pkwestelWFAN Correspondent IJune 15, 2011

World Football: Ranking the Top 10 Worst Referee Mistakes in History

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    It is almost impossible to watch a football match nowadays and not have some sort of opinion about the referee at the end of the match. In recent years, especially after last years World Cup, the referee's have become one of the biggest problems that FIFA chooses not to acknowledge (granted, there are many problems that FIFA chooses not to acknowledge).

    While no one is perfect, there have been several high profile mistakes by referee's that have come in big matches. While some of these decisions don't have much effect on the game, some of them have swung tournament outcomes and league title races.

    Referee mistakes come in all shapes and sizes, sometimes it's an egregious sending off, sometimes it's an unexplainable whistle (often times the ref won't even explain it!), and sometimes it's just a call that the referee does not make.

    This is in no way a definitive list of the worst 10 mistakes of all time. After all, I am very young and can not remember every terrible decision that a referee has made (and there are plenty of them). I tried to pick the ones that have mattered the most to me, and I will admit, I could be a tad bit biased when it comes to some of these.

    When compiling this list I tried to look at the magnitude of each decision. Some of them swung World Cup games or title races, others effected the outcome of games, while sometimes, the calls were overcome and in the end they did not matter, but they were terrible calls nonetheless.

    Here are the Top 10 worst refereeing decisions in (mostly recent) football history.

Honorable Mention: Frank Lampard's Goal That Was, and His Goal That Wasn't

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    Well you win some and you lose some, and for Frank Lampard that was certainly the case when the Chelsea and England midfielder found himself involved in two refereeing decisions that the referee got wrong all within a one year span.

    During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, replays showed that Lampard's shot in the round of 16 against Germany clearly crossed the goal line, but was not given by either the linesman or the referee. Fast forward to late April, when replays showed that Lampard's shot from distance clearly did not cross the line against Tottenham. Nevertheless the goal was given, and Chelsea were given the equalizer just before half-time.

    It is truly unique for Lampard to end up on the wrong end of what was almost the same situation twice in the span of a year, but even though there were two wrong decisions here, they were not enough to make this list.

    In the end, the missed decisions both ended up being trivial. While Lampard's goal against Germany would have tied the score at 2-2, and who knows what would have happened from there, England went on to concede twice in the second half (from very poor defending) and were 4-1 losers. In the end, they were outclassed by Germany, who would have likely won anyway.

    Lampard's goal against Spurs had the ability to be far more controversial. In fact, it was only the beginning of a terrible day for the referee. After the Lampard's goal (incorrectly) made the score 1-1, Chelsea were pushing through looking for a winner. With just minutes remaining, Soloman Kalou scored the winner for Chelsea, though replays showed he was offside, another decision the referee missed. The win moved Chelsea to within three points of leaders Manchester United, though United would end up holding on to win the league by nine points, making Lampard's ghost goal a non-factor.

10. Watford vs. Reading Ghost Goal

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    This decision did not end up costing anyone anything in terms of league position, though it did cost Watford three points. Even with the three points, Watford would have finished in the middle of the table, and even without the point that they did not deserve, Reading would have finished the season in the promotion playoffs, where they promptly crashed out.

    However that doesn't change the fact that this is easily one of the biggest, what the hell could the ref possibly have seen to make that call situations.

    As you could see, after Reading took a late corner in a Coca-Cola Championship match against Watford, the referee awards Reading with a late equalizer to secure a 2-2 draw. The only problem was the ball clearly never even came close to going into the goal.

    The initial corner was cleared by Watford midfielder John Eustace, several yards wide of the goal. With the ball already out of play, Reading forward Noel Hunt tried to send it back into the middle of the danger area. After a few headers and a few more clearances, referee Stuart Attwell gave Reading the goal.

    In the long term, this decision didn't hurt anybody, well except for Attwell who will now live in infamy as fans could relive his blindness via youtube for years to come.

9. Everton's Disallowed Goal vs Liverpool During the 1999/2000 Season

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    The rivalry between Liverpool and Everton is one of the greatest rivalries not just in England, but in all of sports. The two clubs spent the decade of the 80's battling it out at the top of England's first division, but during the Premier League era, Liverpool have clearly had the upper hand.

    The Goodison Park edition of the Merseyside Derby during the 1999/2000 Premier League season gave Everton a rare chance to get a leg up on their rivals. But as quickly as you could say "Toffees," referee Graham Poll took it all away.

    As the final seconds of stoppage time ticked away, Liverpool goalkeeper Sander Westerveld set the ball down to take a goal kick for Liverpool. As expected, this would be the last kick of the game, and the game would end as soon as Westerveld put the ball in play. According to Poll, the referee, this is exactly what happened. There was just one teeny little problem with this, the whistle never blew to end the game.

    Westerveld's kick went straight into the back of Everton's Danny Hutchison, who had his back turned to the play. The ball ricocheted off Hutchison and into the Liverpool net, giving Everton a 1-0 win.

    Except Everton did not win 1-0. Instead Poll did not allow the goal saying time had run out and the game was over, even though the whistle never blew.

    Following the game Poll changed his reason for not allowing the goal saying that Hutchison was attempting to obstruct Westerveld's kick, which replays also showed to be false, and Everton were robbed of a chance of one-upping their rivals.

8. Howard Webb Awarding Michael Carrick a Penalty vs Tottenham

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    Photo courtesy of Ian Hodgson
    Photo courtesy of Ian Hodgson

    There are many fans who believe that many soft penalties are given in favor of Manchester United at Old Trafford. In this case, it wasn't just Spurs fans who were up in arms when Howard Webb awarded United with a penalty in April of 2009, but Liverpool fans and Chelsea fans too.

    With Tottenham holding a 2-0 lead at halftime, the title race was about to be blown wide open between the three teams. But then in stepped referee Howard Webb, one of the best England has to offer and would go on to ref the 2010 UEFA Champions League Final as well as the 2010 World Cup final. Webb ruled that Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes tripped up Michael Carrick in the box and gave United a penalty. 

    Both replays, and photos, showed that Gomes had in fact just managed to get his fingertips on the ball before taking out Carrick. When it comes to goalies and diving there is no gray area, if the keeper makes any contact with the ball first, then it is not a penalty. In this case, Webb got the decision wrong.

    United went on to convert the penalty, cutting the lead to 2-1, and then used that momentum to score four more times and complete a 5-2 comeback win.

    Many Untied fans like to argue that this mistake was not such a big deal because United scored four more times, and therefore would have won anyway. However, as many Spurs, Chelsea, and Liverpool fans will be quick to point out, United were playing lifeless football before the penalty, and the decision changed the complete momentum of the match.

    Truthfully, United were pressing more in the second half and it is hard to imagine that they would not have scored a goal. From that goal, they could have easily found the same momentum and been able to score at least a second and probably a third goal to at least win the match 3-2.

    Depending on what side of the "would United have scored four more goals without the penalty?" argument you sit on, many people would feel that Webb's decision had a direct effect on the title race, as it allowed United to take all three points and maintain their lead over challengers Liverpool and Chelsea.

7. Nani's Mysterious Goal Against Tottenham Following a Hand Ball

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    Old Trafford just does not seem to be a nice place for Tottenham Hotspur. Just a year and a half after the Howard Webb penalty incident, Tottenham goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes conceded one of the strangest goals you will ever see.

    With United leading 1-0 in the second half Manchester United right back played Nani into the box. Nani appeared to be tripped up by Spurs defender Younes Kaboul inside the box, which Nani felt deserved a penalty. Replays showed that Kaboul may have in fact caught Nani inside the box and a penalty COULD have been given. 

    In typical Nani fashion though, the Portuguese winger stopped playing and picked up the ball, since he assumed that his dive would lead to a penalty, however referee Mark Clattenburg never blew his whistle to give the penalty. Seeing Nani holding the ball with his hand, everyone on the pitch naturally assumed that if there was no penalty, Tottenham now had a free kick.

    Gomes placed the ball down to take the free kick, but again no whistle had ever been blown. With Gomes lining up to take the kick, Nani simply ran over and kicked the ball into the net giving United a 2-0 lead and allowing Nani to showoff and celebrate like the selfish child he is.

    Somehow, after looking at Nani and telling him that no penalty was being given, Clattenburg somehow ignored the fact that Nani stopped and grabbed the ball with his hand, and never gave Spurs a free kick for the as obvious as you've ever seen hand-ball.

    With everyone on the pitch assuming it was a Spurs free kick, perhaps Clattenburg assumed that Gomes was taking a free kick too. Though upon realizing that he never blew the whistle, Clattenburg should have just simply disallowed the goal, why he didn't, will always remain a mystery.

6. Referee Does Not Call a Handball Against Germany vs. USA 2002 World Cup

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    In 2002 the United States was on a magical run going farther then they had ever gone in their World Cup history. To make it even more special, after advancing past the group stage, the US defeated their archival Mexico 2-0 to advance to the quarterfinals. 

    The quarterfinals saw them matched up against Germany, but with the chance to advance to the semi-finals, the US were not afraid of the European giants.

    The US started the match unafraid of the Germans, but fell behind when Michael Ballack scored in the 39th minute. Trailing 1-0, the US pressed hard looking for an equalizer in the second half.

    It looked like the United States would finally find their breakthough in the 50th minute. On a corner kick US defender Gregg Berhalter slid in to redirect the ball on goal. His shot was initially saved by German keeper Oliver Kahn, but he could not get all of it and the ball spun backward toward the goal. The ball would never actually make it into goal as it was stopped by the hand of German defender Torsten Frings, whose arm was nowhere near his body.

    Despite this being as clear as night and day, the United States were denied a goal, and a penalty. The lack of decision seemed to sap the energy out of the US, who barely threatened after that, and crashed out of the tournament with a 1-0 loss.

5. Brazil's Rivaldo Takes a Terrible Dive, Has Turkish Player Sent off

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    It doesn't get much worse then this. When Brazil were awarded a corner late in a 2002 World Cup mach vs. Turkey, Hakan Unsal gently kicked the ball towards Brazil's Rivaldo so he could put the ball back in play. 

    The ball hit Rivaldo on the thigh, yet the Brazilian went down clutching his face in agonizing pain. Despite the fact that the linesman was right there and could have told the ref that Rivaldo was performing one of the worst dives in the history of acting, he remained silent, and instead, watched as the referee showed Unsal a red card, ending his day. 

    While Turkey probably wouldn't have won this game anyway, I have soft side for players getting sent off in the World Cup. It's what they dream about their whole lives, and in an instant the referee takes it away from them, especially for something they didn't do. 

4. Didier Drogba's Offside Goal Against Manchester United: 2010

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    And here is the obligatory Chelsea don't need to follow the offsides rule costing Manchester United the title in 2010 slide. Yes, I know, I bring this up every chance I get but you know what, I'm still not over it. I mean look at the picture, it's not even close. Drogba's ENTIRE body is offside, and to make matters worse, the linesman is in PERFECT position to make this call and get it right. The only thing this picture doesn't show is Roman Abromovich putting money into the linesman's pocket.

    Why yes, this is only one missed call, didn't just change the momentum of the title race, it completely handed it to Chelsea. In fact, this bad decision was so big, I'm surprised I'm not making it number one.

    Think about, if Drogba is rightly called offsides, the game ends 1-1 and United win the title by two points, their fourth Premier League title in a row, a new record, and they'd now be sitting on five Premier League titles in a row, and 20 overall.

    What's that? You say that Frederico Macheda's goal that made it 2-1 was a handball and that the game should have ended 1-0 to Chelsea anyway? Ok fine, you win that one, so we'll just change the title of this slide to, "all the decisions the ref's made in both United-Chelea fixtures that handed Chelsea both matches."

    Going back to that first match, Wayne Rooney scored an early goal to give United a 1-0 lead. The goal was called offsides though, despite the fact that Ashely Cole was playing Rooney onsides (also not even close).

    Later in the match, after Darren Fletcher kicked the ball away, he was somehow called for a foul, giving Chelsea a free kick. Off that free kick John Terry headed the games only goal right by Edwin Van Der Sar, who was being distracted by a foul from Didier Drogba... who was standing in an offside position.

    Four terrible decisions by the referee screws United out of a match they should have won 1-0, and even if they lose the return fixture at Old Trafford, they still win the title by five points and would be looking for their sixth straight title next season.

3. Maurice Edu's Disallowed Goal Fo the USA at the 2010 World Cup

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    (For the actual video of this, click on this link

    This could easily have been the worst refereeing decision ever, if it weren't for the fact that in the end the US would overcome it and still win their group.

    The US got off to a slow start against Slovenia in their second group stage match of the 2010 World Cup. They fell behind 2-0 at halftime and things looked bleak. But then Landon Donovan scored shortly after halftime to give the US hope, and with about 20 minutes left to play, coaches son Michael Bradley scored a brilliant equalizer.

    The US wasn't done there. Given a set piece. Donovan crossed the ball into the box, where midfielder Maurice Edu ran onto it and put it into the net, giving the US a late 3-2 lead. But it was not to be as Malian referee Koman Coulibaly blew the play dead for... well no one actually knows the reason.

    ESPN orginally said it was offside, but after watching the replay both commentators agreed that was not the case, as everyone was onside and the flag stayed down. Upon further reviews from the replay they saw that not only was Edu being held back, but Michael Bradley was being bearhugged in the box, an offense that should have resulted in a penalty being given for the United States.

    Coulibaly never gave the reason for why he blew the whistle, and FIFA said that the media could not talk to him but the reason would be given in his postmatch report. The only problem was Coulibaly left the entire incident out of his report, leaving the world still perplexed as to why the whistle was blown.

    Somehow FIFA is totally ok with all of this.

2. Thierry Henry's Handball Sends France to the World Cup

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    Let's set the stage a bit for this one. France and the Republic of Ireland were playing the second leg of their two-leg playoff for the final World Cup spot from Europe. The Republic of Ireland had not been to the World Cup since 2002. Meanwhile France had made it to the final of the 2006 World Cup, and had won it all in 1998.

    The two nations were even at one goal apiece, with the match heading for extra time and possibly penalty kicks, giving Ireland the hope of stealing a World Cup berth.

    But then, with the ball down by the goal line on a French attack, Thierry Henry handled the ball the put himself in position to send it across the goal for William Gallas to smash in. The Irish players immediately ran to the ref asking how in the world he didn't see this happen, after all, if Henry doesn't touch it with his hand the ball would have gone out for a goal kick.

    The play was so obvious that Henry even admitted afterwards that the goal was unfair and that it was a handball. However, months later Henry would blame the ref, saying it was the ref's own fault for not seeing the hand ball.

    This was one of the cruelest decisions ever as it robbed a tiny nation of potentially playing in the world's biggest tournament.

1. Maradona and the Hand of God Goal

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    Diego Maradona scored both goals for Argentina in their 2-1 quarterfinal win over England at the 1986 World Cup. For the second goal, he went around six English players before scoring and the goal was voted the goal fo the century. The first goal however, never should have happened.

    With the ball up in the air, both Maradona and the English goalkeeper raced to the ball. Maradona won the battle and the ball ended up in the back of the net. The only problem is that Maradona had punched the ball into the back of the net.

    When explaining the game of football to kids the rules are fairly simple. Pretty much you could use any part of your body except for your hands. A deliberate hand ball results in a yellow card.

    Somehow, despite Maradona's hand being raised and deliberately using his hand to punch the ball into the goal, no card was given and the goal stood. This allowed Argentina to eliminate England, and helped Argentina win the 1986 World Cup.