There are few sporting events that match the passion and international focus that the World Cup captures every four years. The tournament has been a proving ground for the greatest soccer players of all time, but it has also produced shocking World Cup moments. Despite scandals that have been traced to FIFA in recent years, the Cup has been a reliable source of unpredictable details that make for truly memorable games.
Whether it's a stolen trophy, a curious case of food poisoning, or a disturbing murder, some of the wildest moments in World Cup history have continued the tradition of the game being unexpected, infamous, and sensational. Here are some of the most bizarre moments in the history of the World Cup.
French star Zinedine Zidane confounded World Cup fans and fellow players in 2006 when he headbutted Italy's midfielder Marco Materazzi in a seemingly-random fit of anger during the closing minutes of regulation in that year's final. Zidane received a red card and had to leave the match, which France would go on to lose the World Cup on penalty kicks.
It was believed for many years that Materazzi insulted Zidane's mother, but 10 years later, the Italian player finally admitted what really happened: he insulted Zidane's sister. "What I said was stupid," Materazzi said, "but it didn’t deserve that reaction. You would hear stronger words said on the streets of Naples, or Milan, or Paris, much more serious things." Materazzi dismissed the idea that he spoke poorly of Zidane's mother, saying that his own mother died when he was 15 and he "would never have insulted his."
In 1994, Colombia's Andres Escobar made a costly gaffe for his team when he inadvertently scored an own goal in a group match against the United States. Colombia lost the match 2-1 and that loss prevented his team from reaching the knock-out stages. Despite the fact that Escobar was a beloved national star and one of the most gifted players on the team, he shouldered a significant share of the blame for his team's early exit.
In Colombia, the sport is taken seriously to the point of betting on serious money. In Escobar's case, the rumor goes that there was significant money tied up in the game and that gangsters had him killed for seemingly costing Colombia the win. Escobar, who was shot 12 times following the game, infamously made a statement following his fatal mistake that brushed it off as "not the end of the world."
The original World Cup trophy, the Jules Rimet trophy, was stolen from the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, England, while it was on public display before the 1966 Cup. The trophy was found seven days later in a park by a dog named Pickles, but who stole it remained a mystery for decades.
Years later, it was alleged that London gangster Sidney Cugullere and his brother Reg were responsible for the theft. Reg's son, Gary, explained that his father and uncle stole the prized trophy for thrills rather than money.
"On the street after coming out of the doors, Sid lifted his jacket and said 'Ere you are, Reg, look at this.' He opened one side of his jacket and the World Cup was there," Gary explained. "My dad was freaking out and he knew there was no way they could sell the cup. They realized they had to give it back."
In 1982, Kuwait went into the World Cup as an underdog team with a chance to make some noise in a tournament long dominated by European and South American teams. They drew a difficult group alongside Czechoslovakia, France, and England, but a draw in their first match against the Czechs gave them hope. Their second match against France would go on in infamy and be a damaging blemish on Kuwait's reputation.
The elite French squad got out to a 3-0 lead, taking the spirit out of the underdog Kuwaiti team. Kuwait was able to get a goal of their own and were hoping to earn a respectable 3-1 defeat. When France scored a fourth goal, the Kuwaiti players claimed it was offsides. Sheikh Fahad Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the head of Kuwait's football federation, went so far as to walk onto the pitch and argue directly with the officials. He ultimately threatened to abandon the game and instructed his players to walk out. The players did, forcing the referee to reverse his decision. The game continued, but Kuwait's reputation was never the same from that moment on.