The Biggest On-Field Controversies In World Cup History

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Vote up the hotly debated World Cup moments where you can see what all the fuss was about.

Why is the World Cup so controversial? When it comes to the World Cup, the biggest soccer tournament the game has to offer, there's no shortage of epic moments, dramatic storylines, nail-biting games, and yes, controversies. When the top soccer teams in the World Cup gather to fight for the chance to win glory for their countries, contentious moments on the field are likely.

The most heated World Cup football controversies on the field range from referees making tough - and sometimes wrong - calls, to teams seemingly collapsing on themselves and all-out brawls. Vote up the biggest on-field controversies in World Cup soccer.

  • 1986: Maradona Scores A Goal With The 'Hand Of God'
    Video: YouTube
    154 VOTES

    1986: Maradona Scores A Goal With The 'Hand Of God'

    Moments before Maradona scored what became known as the “Goal of the Century,” he scored another famous goal - this one for nefarious reasons. During the 1986 quarterfinal match between Argentina and England, Argentinian soccer legend Maradona scored a goal by reaching out his hand and hitting the ball into the net. Though the goal stood and contributed to Argentina’s 2-1 victory, everyone from the teams on the bench to the fans in the stands and the people watching at home were able to see Maradona use his hand to score the goal. According to John Barnes, a former England player who was on the bench that day, it was “clear as day.” 

    While the moment became one of the most infamous in the history of the World Cup, Maradona, who went on to win the tournament with Argentina after knocking England out that day, never admitted to the handball, instead claiming it was a header with a little help from the “hand of God.” For his part, Peter Shilton, the goalkeeper Maradona faced that day, reflected bitterly on the moment years later, saying simply, “He cheated.”

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    74 VOTES

    2014: Uruguay’s Luis Suarez Bites Italy’s Georgio Chiellini

    While biting another player once is a headline-making story of its own, this actually wasn’t Luis Suarez’s first offense. Prior to biting opponent Giorgio Chiellini in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, Suarez bit two other players, Otman Bakkal and Branislav Ivanovic. 

    The 2014 incident came about after Suarez had tried to redeem his “bad boy” public image in the lead-up to the tournament. However, in the 79th minute of Uruguay’s third group stage game against Italy, Suarez, having missed a goal opportunity, bit Chiellini as the two players jostled for position. The referee awarded a foul to Italy, but didn't see the incident firsthand, and didn’t punish Suarez for the offense. To commentators, though, the incident was clearly visible, with one such commentator saying, “not again,” as he watched the replay.

    Though Suarez escaped punishment in the game, upon review, FIFA, soccer's international governing body, banned him for four months (including games played for his club team), plus nine international games.

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    2006: Zidane, In The Final Act Of His Career, Head-Butts An Opponent

    Zinedine Zidane is one of the football greats, but the final act of his career was anything but. After France battled Italy to a 1-1 tie in the 2006 World Cup final, tensions were high between the two teams in extra time. So high, that after being fiercely defended throughout the entire game, Zidane turned around to face Italy’s Marco Materazzi, walked toward him, and head-butted him squarely in the chest. Zidane was sent off for the offense and later retired, making this moment the final act in what would otherwise have been a great career. 

    It later came out that Materazzi insulted Zidane’s sister, prompting Zidane’s retaliation. But for France, the reasoning mattered little. Italy went on to win the game in penalty kicks after Zidane - a sure penalty taker and converter - was sent off. 

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    2010: The Netherlands And Spain Are Fined For A Violent Final Match

    The 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain was much more eventful than the 1-0 scoreline suggests. Thirteen players total received cautions from the referee, with one even being sent off for foul play. Among the offenses was a flying high kick by Dutch player Nigel de Jong against Spain’s Xabi Alonso.

    Dutch legend Johan Cruyff was disgusted with his former team’s performance, saying, “This ugly, vulgar, hard, hermetic, hardly eye-catching, hardly football style... If with this they got satisfaction, fine, but they lost.” As punishment for the violence, FIFA fined both teams.

  • 1982: The Prince Of Kuwait Convinces The Ref To Change His Mind Midgame
    Video: YouTube
    50 VOTES

    1982: The Prince Of Kuwait Convinces The Ref To Change His Mind Midgame

    In 1982, Kuwait made its first - and so far only - appearance at a World Cup. They secured a 1-1 draw in their first group stage game against then-Czechoslavakia and hoped for a similarly strong performance against France in their second game. After going down 3-0 in the first 48 minutes, Kuwait notched a goal of their own, giving the team a sliver of hope they could launch a comeback. 

    When France scored their fourth goal of the game, effectively ending those comeback hopes, Prince Fahad of Kuwait made his way down to the field to discuss the goal with referee Myroslav Stupar. 

    In the run-up to the goal, Kuwait’s players stopped playing after hearing what they believed was the ref’s whistle, though it had actually come from the crowd. Because of this, the prince argued, the goal should not have been allowed. To the surprise of everyone in attendance, Stupar agreed to call the goal back after the exchange. 

    Later in the game, France went on to score a fourth goal, anyway. That result, coupled with their loss to England a few days later, sealed Kuwait’s fate at the tournament as they were knocked out in the first stage. For his part, Stupar was banned from refereeing thereafter.

  • 1982: The 'Disgrace Of Gijon' Sees Germany And Austria Advance To The Knockout Round
    Video: YouTube
    57 VOTES

    1982: The 'Disgrace Of Gijon' Sees Germany And Austria Advance To The Knockout Round

    These days, the final round of group stage matches at a World Cup (where teams fight to make it to the knockout stages) are played simultaneously, so no team goes into their final game knowing exactly what they need to advance. 

    This wasn’t always the case, however, and FIFA, the international soccer governing body, implemented the rule due to one specific game. In 1982, Germany and Austria faced off in the last match of the group stage. When the match started, Austria, Germany, or Algeria could have advanced. Algeria, however, played their final match prior to the Germany-Austria game, and their fate rested on this final game’s result. 

    For Germany and Austria, a 1-0 or even 2-0 win for Germany would send the two of them through and Algeria home. When Germany went up 1-0 early in the game, it became clear that neither team was motivated to push for more goals. Instead, they sat back and passed the ball around for 80 more minutes, upsetting both of their fan groups, and most significantly the Algerian team and fans. Algerian fans at the game even attempted to storm the field. At home in Germany and Austria, the German announcer refused to comment on the game, and the Austrian announcer recommended fans change the channel. 

    Though even their own fans were upset at the display, which became known as the “Disgrace of Gijon,” as that’s where the match was played, the German manager was unashamed, saying, "We wanted to progress, not play football."