Diego Maradona scored one of the most controversial goals, perhaps the most controversial one, in World Cup history. This photo was taken at an Argentine training session in Mexico City in 1986. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com)
By Michael Lewis
Let the controversies begin!
With the World Cup in its fourth day, and so many fans complaining about referee calls and inconsistent officiating, it is a fine time to remind the world that there have been even some crazier moments since the competition between in 1930.
Here are some of the most memorable or should we say, forgettable officiating mistakes over the past 92 years at the World Cup:
The Battle of Santiago (1962)
The confrontation — between Chile and Italy on June 2, 1962 — started to boil over well before these two teams met. Italian journalists fired things up by criticizing the Chilean living and playing conditions. The story made it back to Chile, which was bent on revenge. The game was televised live worldwide and attended by 66,057 at Estadio Nacional. Only eight minutes into the game, Giorgio Ferrini was ejected for retaliating after being kicked from behind by Chilean striker Honorino Landa. Referee Ken Aston of England red-carded Ferrini, but he refused to leave the field. Ferrini finally left 10 minutes later, but not before FIFA officials and police were called in.
Some five minutes before the half, Italian Humbero Maschio took Leonel Sanchez down on a bad foul. Sanchez then broke Maschio’s nose with a left hook that would have done Muhammad Ali proud. Everyone in the stadium, plus the TV audience, saw the punch — everyone but Aston, whose back was turned, and the two linesmen. Sanchez was never ejected (years later in newspaper accounts of the incident Sanchez proudly described the punch) and even set up Chile’s first goal, by Banda Ramirez in the 74th minute. Sanchez Toro scored two minutes from time.
Another Italian, Mario David, was ejected for tackling Sanchez around the neck.
Not surprisingly, Aston needed a police escort off the field and never officiated another World Cup match.
Time wasn’t on their side (1930)
An overzealous and miscalculating referee named Almedia Rego provided the drama and confusion in Argentina’s 1-0 victory over France in the very first World Cup in Montevideo, Uruguay on July 15, 1930.
Late in the second half, the Argentines enjoyed a 1-0 lead with the French threatening to score when Rego suddenly whistled the game was finished. The French rightfully protested, claiming there were six minutes left. As mounted police entered the field to restore order, Rego talked with his linesman and it was decided that there were six minutes remaining. The game was restarted, but Argentine midfielder Roberto Cerro fainted. The Argentines held on for the victory, but it was not without repercussions.
The Uruguayans, who attended the match, claimed that France should have won. The Argentines, arch-enemies of Uruguay on the soccer pitch, complained about the game to the World Cup organizing committee and threatened to pull out of the Cup. The Argentines reached the championship match, only to lose to Uruguay, 4-2.
The Hand of God goal (1986)
On June 22, 1986, the legendary Diego Maradona demonstrated his cunning and craftiness in a matter of minutes in a 2-1 win over England at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Let’s set the stage just a bit.
England and Argentina played for the first time since the Falkland Wars, which was a battle between the two countries over several islands east of Argentina in 1982.
There were banners all over the stadium, including ones claiming the Argentine attack was powered by Exocet Missiles (those French-built weapons were used by Argentina in the conflict).
Maradona, however, made certain no one would remember what transpired four years’ prior in a 2–1 victory.
Six minutes into the second half, Maradona had tried to play the ball into the penalty area, but English midfielder Steve Hodge out battled the Argentine for the ball and lifted a back pass to goalkeeper Peter Shilton. Maradona and the keeper arrived at the same time and the Argentine knocked the ball into the net with his left hand. Despite protests by the English, referee Ali Bennaceur of Tunisia pointed to the center spot.
Maradona later claimed “the hand of God” scored that goal.
As if to make amends, Maradona embarked on an amazing journey four minutes later. He took possession of the ball 10 yards into Argentine territory. He performed a 180-degree turn that left Peter Reid and Peter Beardsley standing in their tracks. He then raced down the right side into English territory past Ray Wilkins. Terry Fenwick tried to pull him down at the top of the penalty area, but Maradona shrugged him off. Shilton came out of the goal, committed himself and fell to the turf, eight yards out. Terry Butcher tried a last-ditch effort with a sliding tackle under Maradona, who pushed the ball into the unattended net.
Total time: ten seconds. Number of touches: nine.
Even Maradona’s opponents were astonished by the performance.
“Today he scored one of the most brilliant goals you’ll ever see,” England coach Bobby Robson said. “That first goal was dubious, the second goal a miracle. It was a fantastic goal. It’s marvelous for football that every now and then the world produces a player like Maradona. I didn’t like his second goal, but I did admire it.”
The flip-flopper (1982)
How often does a referee reverse his decision and take a goal away from a team after the opposition complains? In the World Cup, fortunately, it does not happen very often, but it occurred in France’s 4-1 first-round win over Kuwait in Valladolid, Spain on June 21, 1982.
With France enjoying a 3-1 lead with 15 minutes remaining, Soviet referee Miroslav Stupar awarded the French a goal when Alain Giresse scored from in close as Kuwaiti defenders did not move.
The Kuwait players, who were coached by former MetroStars coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, claimed they had heard a whistle and stopped. Prince Fahid, the Kuwaiti Football Association president, walked from the stands onto the field — which usually means an automatic expulsion — to protest and argue the decision. Kuwait appeared ready to walk off the field, but Stupar did an 180-degree turn on his original decision, upsetting the French.
By the time the matter had been settled, the match had been held up for eight minutes.
The French got a measure of revenge and got a goal back in the final minute as Maxime Bossis scored.
And oh yes, FIFA slapped Kuwait with a $12,000 fine, which had to be loose change for Fahid, who had the time was one of the world’s richest men.
Gone in the wind (1978)
When is a goal not a goal? When it is scored after time has elapsed. Referee Clive Thomas of Wales whistled the end of Brazil’s 1-1 draw with Sweden while Zico’s corner kick was in the air at Mar del Plata, Argentina on June 3, 1978. The ball went into the net, but the goal did not count.
As time was running out, Zico lifted a corner kick into the net, although Thomas had blown his whistle to signify the end of the match only a split second before the ball had crossed the finish line.
Not surprisingly, the game ended in confusion as Thomas was pelted by coins from upset fans.
Some 32 years later, Zico still can’t believe he wasn’t awarded a goal.
“Until today, I don’t understand what happened,” he said earlier this year. “Why didn’t the referee end the game before the corner kick because a corner kick is a very conclusive play. So if you let it go, why finish the game after the guy kicks the ball? I think the referee went very badly in that decision.
“It’s not like basketball where you have the final seconds, and the ball still can come in. But in football, you needed the final time to conclude the play and the referee didn’t allow it.”
The human traffic light (2002)
In a perfect world, referees are supposed to be invisible men. We’re not supposed to see that they are doing their job because they should fit so seamlessly into the match. There are unfortunate occasions, however, in which game officials not only decide a match, but just about become the story of the game. Take, for example, what transpired in Germany’s 2-0 win over Cameroon at Shizouka Stadium on June 11, 2002.
Referee Antonio Lopez of Spain became a human version of a traffic light that misty night, handing out a then record 16 cards — 14 yellows and two reds. Each team was awarded eight cards, including one red card.
Lopez ruined the flow of the match because some of those yellows were just plain fouls and should not have been awarded. Fortunately, it did not alter the game in that the better prevailed.
Incredibly, neither coach complained about the excessive bookings, at least not publicly, in which had to be one of the most embarrassing, if not the most embarrassing and disgraceful performances by a World Cup referee.
Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foe, who would die of heart failure while playing at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Lyon, France a year later — was awarded the first yellow in the eighth minute.
Wish we had VAR then (2010)
In the time before Video Assistant Referee, the ball went into the net, well over the line, yet it did not count.
That was in the Round of 16 match-up between Germany and Mexico in Bloemfontein, South Africa on June 27. Had Frank Lampard’s attempt been ruled a goal, who knows what the result might have been?
The Germans recorded a 4-1 win at Free State Stadium and moved onto the quarterfinals. The English returned home angry and quite frustrated.
Let’s set the stage:
Germany tallied first in the 20th minute on a goal by Miroslav Klose. Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer kicked the ball all the way up field. It took two bounces before landing at the top of the penalty arc. Klose settled it and slotted it under goalkeeper David James for Klose’s 12th World Cup, tying Pele for No. 4 on the all-time list.
Lucas Podolski doubled the margin in the 32nd minute. Klose fed the ball to Thomas Mueller on the right side. Mueller crossed the ball at the top of the box to Podolski, who placed his shot under James.
England pulled one back in the 38th minute. Steven Gerrard served a free kick from the edge of the area. Matt Upson headed the ball home to cut the lead to 2-1.
And now the controversial moment only a minute later.
Lampard drilled a shot off the underside of the crossbar as the ball bounced a yard into the goal, but referee Jorge Larrionda who was trailing the play, did not see it and ruled the ball did not cross the line. Assistant Mauricio Espinosa failed to see it as well. Lampard, incidentally, attempted tried a long free kick in the 52nd minute that hit the bar.
England pressed for the equalizer as Germany took advantage, connecting on a pair of counterattacks to seal the match.
That blunder started the push for goal line technology, but eventually became VAR today, for better or worse.