Euro 2020 Special

World Cup Refereeing Controversies


When the World Cup finally gets underway on November 20th, football fans, tournament organisers and FIFA will all be hoping that the outcome of matches is decided fairly on the pitch, and that people are not talking afterwards about the refereeing.

Here are some of the most notorious World Cup refereeing decisions in the history of the World Cup.


Diego Maradona – The Hand of God (1986)

Arguably the most contentious goal ever scored in the World Cup came during the quarter-final in 1986 between Argentina and England played in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. That is when Diego Maradona jumped up to contest a clearance with England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and, despite being a much smaller man, tipped it over Shilton’s hands and into the net.

England players immediately protested and said that he had punched it in and TV replays immediately confirmed this. However, in an age before VAR, Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser allowed the goal to stand.

After the match, an unrepentant Maradona claimed that the Hand of God had intervened.

Lionel Messi will hope to emulate his feat of leading Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar.


Geoff Hurst’s ghost goal (1966)

The final between England and West Germany in 1966 had gone into extra time, when England striker Geoff Hurst collected a cross from the right and fired in a powerful shot that hit the underside of the bar and bounced down.

On the advice of a Russian linesman standing 50 yards away the goal was given, but, even to this day, controversy rages as to whether the entire ball crossed the line. Academics and football experts have argued about it ever since, using computer simulations that were not available back then.

If there is such a thing as karma in football, though, it occurred 44 years later when the two sides met again in the second round in South Africa. A shot by England midfielder struck the bar, bounced down and clearly crossed the line, before being kicked back into play.

No goal was given. 


Schumacher’s Assault 1982

In the 1982 semi-final, France were playing West Germany in Seville and the teams were tied 1 -1 when France’s Patrick Battiston was through on goal with only goalkeeper Harald Schumacher to beat.

Battiston flicked the ball over Schumacher’s head, but, as he tried to collect it, Schumacher cynically took him out, leaving Battiston unconscious. The French player required oxygen before being stretchered off, but the Dutch referee did not even judge the incident worthy of a free kick.

Most commentators believe that Schumacher should have received a red card and a lengthy ban, with others arguing that what he did amounted to assault.

Even now, Battiston still suffers from headaches and back pain as a result of the incident.


South Korea’s suspicious progress 2002

Conspiracy theories abounded after co-hosts South Korea became the most successful Asian team in the history of the competition in 2002, when they reached the semi-finals courtesy of two famous wins over European opposition.

However, they seemed to have been given more than a helping hand by the referees. In their second round match with Italy, the Italians had a goal disallowed, and then forward Francesco Totti was sent off for diving, when replays showed clearly he had slipped.

And then in their quarter-final with Spain, the Spaniards had two perfectly good goals chalked off.


Croat gets three yellow cards 2006

English referee Graham Poll was left red-faced after taking charge of the match between Croatia and Australia in 2006. On the hour mark, he showed a yellow card to Croatia defender Josip Simunić, and, then, in the dying minutes of the game, gave him another one.

However, rather than brandishing a red card, he allowed Simunić, to remain on the pitch, and there was still time for him to collect another yellow card three minutes later. This time Simunić did receive his marching orders, but it was too late to save Poll’s blushes. He retired from international action after the game.


Premature final whistle 1930

In the very first World Cup which was staged in Uruguay in 1930, France were playing Argentina in Montevideo.

The French were trailing by a goal with the match heading to its conclusion when they seemingly were about to equalise, with Marcel Langiller bearing down on goal. At that moment referee Antonio Rojo blew the whistle for full-time, even though the clock showed that there were still six minutes to be played.

After the French players protested, Rojo realised his mistake, and brought the teams back out to play the remaining minutes. But France were unable to fashion another chance as good and lost the game.




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