The world’s most popular sport, the Beautiful Game, sure has some ugly moments strewn throughout its glorious history. It is a game that can connect the privileged upper classes in London to the poorest children from the slums of Rio. But it is also the game that can tear nations apart, inciting riots across the globe over a missed call or a politically charged goal celebration. That’s not to mention the crony-laden organization of FIFA that dominates the game. Football, soccer, whatever you want to call it- it has the potential to unite us every fourth summer. These infamous moments are the ones that divided us. Because “Football is a matter of life and death, except more important.” For some, that is not hyperbole.
No other sport is so enchanting, so enlivening, and filled with such on-the-field creativity. But the antics of a few players over the years has led to indelible images that cannot be erased from the minds of certain nations’ most ardent supporters. English fans will forever rue the day they encountered the likes of Diego Maradona and his Mano de Dios. Algerian supporters can never forgive Germany and Austria for the Non-Aggression Pact of Gijon. And French fans will never absolve the Italian Marco Materazzi, but can they even bring themselves to forgive their long-time captain Zizou?
Edward Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist, once wrote that, “I'm attracted to soccer's capacity for beauty. When well played, the game is a dance with a ball.” While this is undoubtedly a beautiful sentiment, perhaps a certain infamous Uruguayan striker could take these words to heart. This is not a list you want to appear on twice.
10 Luis Suarez’s “Hand of God” (Uruguay vs. Ghana: 2010)
Diego Maradona may have committed grand larceny against England in 1986, but at least he had the talent to score a legitimate goal that day… and never bit anyone. The same cannot be said of the Uruguayan Luis Suarez, who dashed Ghanaian dreams and denied Africa its first semi-final berth in World Cup history. Tied in extra time and facing a frantic onslaught in front of his own net, Suarez made an absolutely brilliant hand save on a sure goal, despite being a striker. Though he was shown a red card for his actions, Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan missed the subsequent penalty and Uruguay would go through on penalties. The African continent still awaits its first trip to the semi-finals.
9 Roberto Baggio becomes the Italian Bill Buckner (Italy vs. Brazil: 1994)
Before he left for the 1994 World Cup, Roberto Baggio states that his “Buddhist spiritual master” told him that “[he] would be confronted with a lot of problems and that everything would be decided at the very last minute.” Unfortunately for Baggio, the Buddhist’s prediction was far more accurate than Baggio’s penalty shot in the final. As the famous sports maxim goes, you always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take and as Baggio rightly points out, “Only those who have the courage to take a penalty miss them.” And, to his credit, he does own up to his miss. “I failed that time. Period. And it affected me for years. I still dream about it.” Baggio even fittingly titled his autobiography Una Porta Nel Cielo (A Goal in the Sky).
8 Putting the Spit in Spite (Netherlands vs. West Germany: 1990)
Pablo Picasso once joked that, “If I spit they will take my spit and frame it as great art.” There was no artistry to Frank Rijkaard’s disgusting display of saliva. The Dutch-German rivalry, with its roots firmly implanted by the Second World War, has always been incredibly ferocious. It was punctuated by “The Mother of All Defeats” in 1974 when West Germany emerged victorious over the Oranje. But nothing excuses the actions of Rijkaard, the well-liked and respected Dutch defender, who was aptly labeled a “llama” after the animal best known for its extraordinary spitting abilities. Eventually, Rudi Voller did forgive Rijkaard and the two would film a television commercial for charity.
7 Suarez Part Deux (Uruguay vs. Italy: 2014)
Across the world, gamblers are still paying tribute to Luis Saurez after his bite of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. According to the BBC, one online sportsbook paid out over 44 000 British pounds to 167 people who had bet at odds of 175-to-1 that Suarez would bite someone during the World Cup. Saurez had already bitten two players in the past and faced accusations of racism during his time in the English Premier League after an incident with Patrice Evra. As of October 2014, Suarez was in therapy to “cure his biting problem.” His autobiography is called “Crossing the Line”. Enough said.
6 Rojas Bleeds Red (Chile vs. Brazil: 1989)
Played in Brazil’s famously frenzied Maracana Stadium, Chile was trailing Brazil 1-0 and facing elimination from the upcoming 1990 World Cup. At the 70th minute mark, the Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas was on the ground clasping his forehead and a firework lay nearby. Alleging that they feared for their safety, Chile abandoned the match, though video evidence later showed that Rojas had cut himself with a razor blade hidden inside his glove. Brazil was eventually awarded a 2-0 victory; Rojas was given a lifetime ban, which was eventually lifted in 2001; and Chile was disqualified from both the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. We’re still trying to figure out why Rojas had a razor blade in his glove in the first place.
5 Germany’s Revenge (England vs. Germany: 2010)
The Football Gods may forgive, but they never forget and the ghosts of 1966 made their presence known in South Africa in 2010. With England having just cut the lead in half and trailing Germany 2-1 in the Round of 16, Frank Lampard launched an absolute screamer at the German keeper. Though replays confirmed a good goal, the referees ruled otherwise and England would never recover, eventually losing 4-1. In the aftermath, FIFA would finally enter the 21st century and quietly implemented goal-line replay technology for the subsequent 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
4 Do the Ends Justify the Means? (West Germany vs. Austria: 1982)
The Nichtangriffspakt von Gijon (Non-Aggression Pact of Gijon) became one of the most reprehensible games in World Cup history when Germany and Austria agreed to play to a 1-0 German victory, thereby ensuring that both sides would advance at the expense of the tournament’s Cinderella team Algeria. Though this is disputed, there is ample evidence to suggest that the two teams agreed to the shady deal at half time after a goal from Germany in the 11th minute. The second-half statistics speak for themselves: three measly shots for both teams (none on target); a meager eight tackles for Germany; and, most revealingly, a 90%-plus pass completion rate for both teams. The rightfully appalled Algerian fans waved money at the players and several even tried to invade the pitch, but the most enduring image is of a lone German fan burning his nation’s flag.
3 Hurst’s Worst (England vs. West Germany: 1966)
Sir Geoff Hurst is the only player in FIFA history to score a hat trick in a World Cup Final, though many Germans would place an asterisk firmly next to that stat. Though television replays do appear to support the theory that the ball never crossed the goal line, the evidence does remain maddeningly inconclusive. Hurst has stated that he wished goal-line technology had been available back then, though he dismisses German complaining and states that “They can’ take it away now anyway. It is in the book.”
2 Diego Maradona - Hand of God (England vs. Argentina: 1986)
One game. One man. One of the most beautiful goals in the history of football; later crowned “The Goal of the Century”, preceded by one of the most sordid (though creative) goals in the game’s history. To his credit, Diego Maradona had tolerated much abuse from the English side throughout the first half, though he got his revenge and more in the second half. While Maradona’s memorable “Hand of God” goal will haunt English nightmares; he could only have dreamed of his second. Even the English commentators gushed that, “You have to say that’s magnificent. Pure football genius.” You still have to wonder though, which goal was truly more ingenious.
1 The Head Butt Heard Around the World (Italy vs. France: 2006)
You just never talk about someone’s sister like that; but, in the World Cup Final, anything goes. Zinedine Zidane was undoubtedly, verbally provoked and defended his family’s honour, but was it worth it? Only he can answer that. “Sometimes words are harder than blows… I reacted.” The most iconic image of that World Cup, the image seared into the mind of every French football fan, will be Zidane slowly ambling past the shimmering World Cup Trophy. Within his grasp; and yet so far off. While many French players “reportedly hated their captain” in the aftermath of the Final, thousands of fans would chant his name in the Palace de la Concorde upon his return home and 61% of French people polled immediately following the Final stated they forgave him. One French columnist summed up the Gallic sentiment, “It’s good for us to see our national hero is fallible.”
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