The World Cup is played on a razor’s edge. In every tournament, national pride, personal emotion, and competitive instinct are all at a fever pitch. Perceived slights can boil over and become international disputes. Legends can become villains, and ordinary men can attain infamous immortality. Sometimes the catalyst can be simple as failing to live up to hype, others are audacious moments replayed for eternity. Whatever the reason, here in no particular order are the 4 Most Controversial Moments in World Cup History:
The Battle of Santiago
The BBC’s David Coleman introduced Chile and Italy’s group match at the 1962 World Cup as “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.” Referee Ken Alston, later to become famous for his invention of the yellow and red cards remarked, “I wasn’t reffing a football match, I was acting as an umpire in military maneuvers.” It was, by all accounts, one of the most violent crimes ever perpetrated upon the game of football. The first foul occurred just 12 seconds after kickoff, setting the tone for the match. Several minutes later, Italian midfielder Giorgio Ferrini had to be physically removed by policemen, kicking and screaming, for refusing to leave after being sent off. In response to repeated fouling by Italy’s Mario David, Leonel Sanchez, son of a prizefighter, knocked him to the ground. David was then sent off for retaliating, kicking Sanchez in the head. Sanchez later broke Italian forward Humberto Maschio’s nose with a left hook. The police were needed to intervene three more times before Chile won, putting two late goals past nine-man Italy.
He was one of the greatest players the game had ever known, enjoying the unlikeliest of fairytale swansongs before he retired, leading his team to the World Cup Final. At the age of 34, his retirement imminent, Zinedine Zidane looked like he might turn back the clock and help France to its second World Cup title. He had scored two goals so far in the tournament, and already been named recipient of the Golden Ball as the competition’s best player when he led his French side out against Italy. He even scored the first goal of the match, an audacious chipped penalty in the seventh minute, and everything seemed set for Zidane to ride off into the sunset, hero of his nation. But Italy had other ideas. Marco Materazzi scored in the 19th minute, and as the game dragged on into extra time, the two goalscorers exchanged words before Zidane stopped, turned around, and headbutted Materazzi in the chest. He is immediately sent off. Without their captain, talisman, and penalty taker, France lose in the shootout, and the World’s lasting impression of one of the game’s legends is that of a moment of anger and petulance.
Brazil’s 1950 World Cup Team
To say Brazil were confident about winning the 1950 World Cup would be an understatement. Instead of a final match, there was a final group, and to win the World Cup, Brazil only needed a draw against Uruguay. A special song was composed for the expected occasion of Brazil’s victory, and the Brazilian FA had 22 gold medals engraved with the players’ names. FIFA President Jules Rimet had prepared his victory speech in Portuguese, so sure was he, too, of a Brazilian win. But as they say, pride goes before a fall, and Uruguay overturned a one-goal Brazilian lead to win the match, and thus, the World Cup. Brazil were shocked, and their team was disgraced, many never playing for the national team again. Even the white shirts used in the match were too closely associated with the failure of 1950 to ever be used again, and to this day, Brazil have never again worn a white shirt.
Maradona’s Hand of God
There could only ever be one Maradona. The embodiment of flawed genius, the collision of the breathtaking and the sublime with the low, petty and petulant, The 1986 World Cup was his defining moment. Having just fought a war four years earlier, more over national pride than over a bit of cold and scrubby rock in the South Atlantic, and having been on unfriendly footballing terms since the 1966 World Cup, the quarterfinal between England and Argentina was never likely to be clean or quiet. Nobody, however, could have expected what Diego Armando Maradona would do. His two goals, dubbed the “Hand of God” and the “Goal of the Century” give an insight into the two competing facets of his personality. The Hand of God was the recklessly competitive slum kid, willing to do anything to win. The Goal of the Century was the brilliant footballer, sure of his abilities and lethal in their application. Yet Maradona’s genius was flawed, and it’s the Hand of God for which he is remembered, and by many in the English public, reviled.
Keith Hickey is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at USArsnl@gmail.com.