The World Cup is the biggest stage in football, where the best of the best go-to compete. Despite the undisputed grandeur of the competition, the reach and impact also means that any controversial moments are made so much more contentious.
5 Most Controversial World Cup Moments
5 Most Controversial World Cup Moments
The Hand of God
Perhaps the biggest ever World Cup controversy, Diego Maradona’s handball in the Quarter-final of the 1986 World Cup against England.
Although now somewhat of an iconic moment, forever connected with the World Cup, it was still a controversial moment that still enrages most England fans to this day.
The Quarter-final, which stood at 0 - 0 at half time was forever changed in a split moment. Six minutes into the second half, Jorge Valdano was attempting to play through a number of English defenders. His efforts were quickly intercepted, with Steve Hodge playing it back towards his own goal. Because it was his own play, Hodge had played an otherwise offside Maradonna onside.
While contesting the ball with England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, Maradona’s raised fist then hit the ball and sent it into England’s goal giving Argentina a 1 - 0 lead, which they would build on to eventually win the tie 2 - 1.
Due to lack of visibility and the game taking place approximately 30 years before the advent of VAR, the goal stood, remaining the most controversial World Cup goal of all time.
Lampard’s Ghost Goal
Another example of England being on the receiving end of a poor World Cup decision, this time Frank Lampard’s ghost goal against Germany in 2010.
England met Germany in the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with both teams having particularly stacked teams at the time.
England were already 2 - 0 down by the time they began their comeback with a goal from Matthew Upson. But Lampard was sure he had scored the goal to bring England back level, until he wasn’t.
The goal was a particular beauty, the ball hitting the underside of the crossbar before bouncing over the line then back out. Due to the lack of goal-line technology, the linesman and referee deemed that the ball had not crossed the line, despite all broadcasts showing the ball firmly across the line.
Germany went on to win the game 4 - 1 seeing England dumped out of the competition in the first knock-out round.
The Zidane Headbutt
The scene of this next controversial World Cup is likely the biggest, the 2006 World Cup Final in Germany, and would involve Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi.
In his last ever game in professional football, Zidane, mostly known to be one of the greatest of all time for France, was sent off.
In an altercation with Italy’s Materazzi where allegedly made inappropriate comments about Zidane’s mother, Zidane proceeded to headbutt the Italian in the chest which saw him awarded a straight red.
To make matters worse, France, then in a fierce rivalry with Italy, went on to lose 5 - 3 on penalties after the score was level at 1 - 1 after extra time.
Though probably not the way in which Zidane wanted to end his playing career, the moment over time has become more iconic rather than controversial, with Zidane not facing as much vitriol for the headbutt as one may expect. Nonetheless, it showed aggression on the pitch on the biggest stage.
Another handball incident at the World Cup, this time 34 years after Maradonna’s Hand of God, with Luis Suarez making , in his own words, the “save of the tournament” at the 2010 World Cup.
Deep into extra time, a header from Ghana’s Dominic Adiyah was blocked by Suarez on the line, though the Uruguayan had assumed the role of goalkeeper and proceeded to use his hands to block the shot.
The blatant handball saw Suarez shown a red card, but his save had done the job despite his dismissal. The blocked chance meant the game went to penalties, where Uruguay won 4 - 2, much to the dismay of Ghana and many watching.
Though Suarez praised his efforts after the game, it showed the unsavoury and unsportsmanlike behaviour sometimes apparent in football to the biggest audience possible. In terms of the feelings towards the moment at the time and now, Suarez’s handball is probably one of the most controversial plays by a single player at a World Cup - worsened by his celebrations at the side of the pitch when Ghana missed the resulting penalty.
Schumacher Takes Out Battiston
A particularly bloody controversy at a World Cup came back in 1982 in Spain, in a game between West Germany and France.
Harald Schumacher, who was between the sticks for West Germany, was the villain of this match-up. When Frenchman Patrick Battiston was approaching the West German box, looking to get on the end of a ball, Schumacher had other ideas.
Schumacher left his box and jumped with Battiston, but importantly, turned his back and took Battiston out.
This collision was brutal for Battiston, who was left unconscious with two teeth knocked out and a damaged vertebrae. There was even a point in which Battiston’s life was in danger.
However, despite the bloody move, there was no disciplinary action against Schumacher, with West Germany being awarded a goal kick. For such a level of violence on the pitch, this will always remain one of the most controversial World Cup moments.