10) Fabio Grosso’s Fall – Italy vs Australia 2006
Ask your average Australian football fan (those without Italian heritage) who their most hated individual is, and Fabio Grosso will be high up on the list.
This all revolves around a controversial incident during the 2006 World Cup second round clash in Kaiserslautern. The Azzurri were in a very precarious position as they were down to 10 men, had used their three substitutes, and were starting to tire as the game moved towards inevitable extra time.
Then, deep into injury time, left back Grosso pounced on a mistake and cut into the area before going down under the challenge of Lucas Neill. The referee pointed to the spot, and Francesco Totti buried his penalty with the last kick. Italy would go on to win their first World Cup in 24 years, but Australia still argue to this day that Grosso dived.
While Neill was naïve in going to ground, and there was definitely contact – at the same time it is clear that Grosso was looking for the penalty. Nevertheless, Italy fans often point out that they had been dominating the game until the 50th minute when defender Marco Materazzi was straight red carded for an offence that wasn’t worth any more than a yellow.
9) Schumacher On Battiston - West Germany vs France 1982
Just three days after the Brazil-Italy five goal thriller, we were all treated to another classic at Espana ’82 in this semi final. Both countries had been getting stronger and stronger as the tournament progressed, and there were a host of world class players on show such as Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, Paul Breitner, Uli Stielike, and Pierre Littbarski.
Littbarski’s early opener was cancelled out by Platini’s penalty, and what followed was an absorbing contest between the two enemies. Aside from the football, there was one of the most controversial moments in World Cup history as German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher clattered French defender Patrick Battiston in a one-on-one situation rendering him unconscious and causing two of his teeth to fall out. Schumacher became the villain of the World Cup after the referee didn’t even give a free kick.
The match moved into extra time, and two goals in six minutes from Marius Tresor and Giresse seemed certain to book France’s place in the final, but a famous German comeback forced penalties through substitute Karl Heinz Rummenigge and a Klaus Fischer bicycle kick. In the shootout, France again gained the upper hand when Stielike became (still) the only German in history to miss a World Cup shootout penalty, but Schumacher saved from Dider Six and Maxime Bossis to win the day for West Germany, who would lose in the final to Italy. France complaints continue 28 years later.
8) Spain vs Yugoslavia 1982
Spain’s performance at their own World Cup in 1982 was a really miserable one. They won just once in five games, scoring only four goals – of which two were controversial penalties.
Indeed the Spaniards wouldn’t have even made it out of the groups but for refereeing favours. They trailed 1-0 to outsiders Honduras in their opening match and only earned a 1-1 draw thanks to a disputed Roberto Ufarte penalty, while they were humiliatingly defeated 1-0 by Northern Ireland in their final match of Group 5.
Only a 2-1 win over Yugoslavia saw them qualify for the second group phase, but this was secured in infamous fashion. Trailing 1-0, Spain were awarded a penalty for a Yugoslavian foul that occurred clearly two yards outside the area. Ufarte struck his penalty wide, but the referee then demanded a retake which Juanito made no mistake from. Spain went on to win 2-1, while Yugoslavia would eventually be eliminated despite going into the tournament as one of the favourites.
Yugoslavia would earn their revenge eight years later at Italia ’90 when they defeated Spain 2-1 in the second phase, thanks to two brilliant goals from the legendary Dragan Stojkovic.
7) From Russia With Two Offsides – USSR vs Belgium 1986
Believe it or not, there are some people who believe that Argentina vs England was not the most controversial game of the 1986 World Cup. The alternative is the round of 16 clash between the USSR and Belgium in Leon.
The match ended in a thrilling 4-3 extra time win for the Belgians, but it would not be unfair to declare that the USSR were cheated out of the tournament. The Soviets, who contained many of the exceptional Dynamo Kiev team that had won the Cup Winners’ Cup just a month earlier (including star man Igor Belanov below, who scored a hat-trick and won the Ballon d'Or that year), were clearly the superior team and created chance after chance throughout the 120 minutes.
But they were denied by a referee and two linesmen seemingly wearing Belgian shirts. The USSR twice led in normal time, but twice Belgium equalised through offside goals, the second from Jan Ceulemans on 77 minutes in which he was an incredible five yards ahead of play.
6) Rudi Voller’s dive – West Germany vs Argentina 1990
For many it was poetic justice after a painfully negative Argentina side had somehow scraped through all the way to the final, winning two penalty shootouts along the way.
In the Rome showpiece against West Germany, the holders had again ridden their luck in arguably the dullest final of all time. But they were then undone by the referee in the closing stages. First Pedro Monzon became the first player in history to be red carded in a World Cup final after a clear dive by Jurgen Klinsmann on his challenge. Then, with five minutes remaining, the Germans were awarded a penalty when Rudi Voller went down far too easily in the box. Andreas Brehme converted the spot-kick and Germany were champions. Argentina cried foul, claiming that no one wanted them to win after they had knocked out hosts Italy in the semis.
5) Schnellinger's Super Save – West Germany vs Uruguay 1966
On the surface, it would seem that no number of bad refereeing calls could give Uruguay reason to complain about this World Cup quarter-final from 1966.
The South Americans were thumped 4-0 by the eventual finalists, with the goals scored by Helmut Haller (2), Franz Beckenbauer and Uwe Seeler. But study this game a little closer and you will see a match filled with huge controversy.
Uruguay had dominated the early part of the game and would have taken the lead but for a flying save from Germany defender Karl Heinz Schnellinger, who literally clawed the ball out of the top corner with his hands. Incredibly, English referee Jim Finney waved play on.
The Germans took the lead through Haller and the game was delicately poised before Finney controversially sent off two Uruguayans in the second half. West Germany scored three times late on for a flattering scoreline.
After the match, there were mass conspiracy calls that we go into more detail below.
4) Antonio Rattin’s ‘Violence of the tongue’ – Argentina vs England 1966
For many people in Argentina, Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ in 1986 was revenge on England for another World Cup quarter-final between the two countries 20 years earlier where the South Americans felt they were cheated.
Hosts England won the game 1-0 through a 78th minute Geoff Hurst goal, but not before Argentina had had captain Antonio Rattin scandalously sent off in the 35th minute for arguing with referee Rudolf Kreitlein. Rattin initially refused to leave the field, believing that the ref wanted England to win, and when he did finally walk the 29-year-old insulted the Queen.
Three Lions manager Sir Alf Ramsey let rip at the opposition with comments that were viewed as racist in Argentina. “We have still to produce our best, and this is not possible until we meet the right sort of opponents, and that is a team that comes out to play football and not act as animals,” sniped Ramsey.
Post match statistics showed that Argentina had committed only 19 fouls in the game, to England’s 33, while the referee spoke no Spanish so could not have understood what Rattin said to him.
Back in South America, it was pointed out that the referee in the England game was German, while the official in Germany’s equally controversial quarter-final was English. The events surrounding the refereeing draw for these two games added further suspicions.
The representatives of Argentina, Uruguay, Spain and the Soviet Union were invited to a London hotel for the draw. They arrived on time, but found out that the draw had already been made without them, with the only witnesses being FIFA's English president Stanley Rous, a German representative, and a couple of Africans. This dubious situation strengthened conspiracy talk, and led to a Dutch referee infamously declaring that "FIFA is controlled by three people - Sir, Stanley, Rous."
3) Korea 2002 – Italy, Spain & Portugal cry conspiracy
The 2002 World Cup has gone down in infamy due to the huge number of refereeing mistakes that helped eliminate a string of top nations, and also ensured that co-hosts Korea made it all the way to the semi-finals.
During their final two group games against Croatia and Mexico, Italy had four perfectly good goals disallowed, but somehow managed to scrape through to the second round where they met South Korea. Against Guus Hiddink’s men, Italy again had a valid goal chalked off, a golden goal from Damiano Tomassi which would have taken them to the next round. Francesco Totti was sent off for diving when replays suggested he had lost his footing, while the Koreans were awarded a controversial penalty for a Christian Panucci tugging offence. Italy eventually lost after Ahn Jung-Hwan’s golden winner, but the match and Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno have gone down in Italian football notoriety.
The Italian nation cried that there had been a conspiracy against them, and they were soon joined by the Spanish, who in the very next game against Korea had two perfectly good goals disallowed as they were eliminated on penalties. At the end of the game, Ivan Helguera had to be held back by team-mates as he attempted to attack the referee.
Italy and Spain were not the only teams to be apparently wronged by Korea during the 2002 World Cup. In their final group game against Portugal, the co-hosts continually appeared to win favours from the referee as they won 1-0, thus eliminating the Europeans.
2) ‘Phantom Goals’ – Geoff Hurst vs West Germany 1966/ Frank Lampard vs Germany 2010
Was it over the line or not? This is a question that raged for years around the world following England’s controversial third goal against West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley. With the scores tied at 2-2 eight minutes into extra time, Geoff Hurst span in the area only to see his shot crash off the underside of the crossbar, bounce down on or over the line, before being cleared.
England players appealed for a goal, West Germans wagged their fingers, but the goal was eventually given after Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst had consulted with USSR linesman Tofik Bakhramov. England went on to win the game 4-2 and lift their one World Cup to date.
However, improvements in technology have recently proved that the ball did not cross the line. When asked on his deathbed why he told the referee that Hurst had scored, linesman Bakhramov is alleged to have replied: “Stalingrad”, referring to the infamous battle between the Soviets and the Nazis in World War II where more than two million people were killed or wounded – the bloodiest in the history of warfare.
The incident was repeated at this summer's finals when England clashed with Germany in the last 16. The Nationalmannschaft had the Three Lions on the rack from the first whistle until Matthew Upson headed in to make it 2-1 Germany. Joachim Loew's side were shaken and should have found themselves pegged back to 2-2 just before half-time. Frank Lampard rifled a shot from outside the box against the underside of the crossbar and the ball bounced a good two yards behind the goal-line. The Uruguayan referee was having none of the English claims of a goal and allowed play to continue. The Germans put the game out of sight in the second half, adding two more goals to win 4-1 and send England out.
1) ‘Hand of God’ – Diego Maradona vs England 1986
The most infamous goal in World Cup history occurred during the quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico between Argentina and England. With the score locked at 0-0 six minutes into the second half, Maradona chased a miss-hit clearance by England midfielder Steve Hodge and jumped above goalkeeper Peter Shilton before flicking it past the veteran with the outside of his left fist. The referee failed to spot the infringement and Argentina took a one-goal lead. Minutes later, Maradona would score the ‘Goal of the Century’ after dribbling past half of the England team – Argentina would win 2-1 and go on to lift the World Cup.
After the quarter-final Maradona said that the goal had been scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”, also saying it was revenge for the Falklands War between England and Argentina four years earlier. The current Albiceleste boss became enemy No.1 on English shores following this incident and 24 years on he is still very much a hated figure.