No list about the World Cup’s most controversial moments can begin without mentioning ‘The Hand of God’. As gifted as he was controversial, this one match encapsulated everything about El Diego.

1. The Hand Of God, 1986

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6 minutes into the second half, Maradona and the England goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, contested an air borne ball in the England penalty area. Maradona got there first, albeit with his left hand.


The English protested, but the referee wasn’t having any of it.

The only reason why this wasn’t the main talking point of the game was because 4 minutes later, Diego Maradona, did this.

A Maradona-led Argentina went on to win the cup. Like we said, gifted and controversial.

2. Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt, 2006

It was almost fairytale like. Zinedine Zidane had come back from retirement to lead a French team in dire need of leadership, all the way to the final.


But it was not to be. In extra time, as Zidane and Italian defender, Marco Materazzi, were heading back to the centre circle, Zidane headbutted him.

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Zidane was sent off, and France lost the final on penalties.


3. Luis Suarez’s handball vs Ghana, 2010

Of course, in a conversation about controversy in football, Luis Suarez cannot be left out. In the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup, Ghana met Uruguay, for a chance to meet the Netherlands in the semi-final. After a hotly contested 1-1 in normal time.

Towards the end of extra time, Ghana had a shot, saved off the line, by Luis Suarez. 


The striker had blatantly used his hands, and was rightly sent off and a penalty awarded to Ghana. Gyan, the Ghanian failed to convert the penalty and afterwards Uruguay won the match on penalties.


And what did Luis Suarez have to say about it? It was “the save of the tournament.”

4. Luis Suarez bites Chielini, 2014

Yep, it’s Luis Suarez again. In their final group 2014 World Cup, Uruguay needed a win, while Italy just needed a draw. In the 79th minute, Suarez and Giorgio Chiellini clashed in the Italy goal area. 


Replays showed Suarez had bitten the Italian defender, but the referee waved play on for an Uruguay corner. A corner off which, the Uruguayans scored. Did Suarez have the last laugh again?


No. This time the FIFA Disciplinary Committee banned Suarez for 9 international matches, effective immediately, basically ending his World Cup.

5. Nigel de Jong’s karate kick in the 2010 Final

The 2010 World Cup Final was a unique one. For one, whoever won, it promised a first time winner. And for another, it had the most yellow cards awarded in a final. But everyone only remembers one. This one.


Just 28 minutes into the match, Netherlands midfielder Nigel de Jong kicked Spain’s Xabi Alonso in the chest. Eventually, Spain’s superior technical ability shone through, and Iker Casillas’ team lifted the cup.


6. France’s goal disallowed because of a Sheikh, 1982

While this particular incident didn’t really affect the result of the game, it was controversial nonetheless. France were leading 3-1 in their game against Kuwait when France’s Alain Giresse scored a goal.


But the Kuwaitis argued against the goal, claiming they had stopped play after hearing a whistle from the crowds. But then, the President of the Kuwait FA, Sheikh Fahad, stepped onto the pitch and protested the goal too. The referee was forced to rescind his decision. But the French scored another goal anyway.


7. The revolt of the French Team, 2010

This time, there was no Zizou to help ease the discord amongst the players. After a difficult qualification campaign (The Hand of Gaul), it was announced that the coach, Raymond Domenech would resign from his post after the tournament.

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France just about managed to draw against Uruguay, but lost to Mexico. During the interval of the match, French striker, Nicolas Anelka abused Domenech, after which Anelka was sent back home to France. The next day French captain, Patrice Evra had an argument with France’s trainer. following which the team refused to train.


Things got so bad, the Sports Minister had to intervene. Evra was dropped, the team played and lost their last match and France returned home, with not a single win at the tournament.


8. The Battle of Santiago, Chile Vs Italy, 1962

Football, like many sports, is prone to hyperbole. Geniuses are a dime a dozen, and on the pitch ‘battles’ happen so often, you’d think the UN would step in at any time. The Battle of Santiago, however, wasn’t one of these moments.


To put it in perspective, the first foul of the match happened after just 12 seconds. The first sending off happened in the 12th minute. The culprit, Giorgio Ferrini, refused to leave the pitch and had to be escorted off by police.


A short summary of the match would include an attempted kick to the head, a punch, a broken nose, various report of spitting, and police having to intervene 3 times more. What good came of the match? Well, the referee in charge was the guy who invented yellow and red cards. So, silver lining and all, eh?

9. Rivaldo’s dive vs Turkey, 2002

While probably not as big a controversy as some of the other incidents on this list, it was amongst the major talking points of this World Cup. In their first group match against Turkey, towards the end of the match, Rivaldo was waiting by the corner flag for the ball. Turkish player, Hakan Unsal kicked the ball towards him, hitting him (Rivaldo) on the thigh.


Rivaldo, however, fell to the ground clutching his face for some inexplicable reason. The referee then showed Unsal a second yellow card, sending the player off. Later, Rivaldo was fined only 11,670 Swiss Francs for his deception.

10. Geoff Hurst’s phantom ‘goal’ vs West Germany, 1966

In the final of the 1966 tournament, hosts England were taking on West Germany. With the match tied at 2-2 in normal time after West Germany’s 89th minute equaliser, the match went into extra time.


After 11 minutes, Geoff Hurst took a shot from close range. The ball cannoned off the underside of the crossbar, bounced off the ground and was cleared. And here’s where the controversy begins.


The Swiss referee was unsure if the ball had crossed the line, and consulted with his Azerbaijani linesman who indicated it was a goal. For a while people were undecided about whether it was a goal, now, after a whole of lot of studies on the game footage, the general consensus is that it wasn’t a goal. Either way, Hurst scored another goal to win the match 4-2, and the World Cup.

11. The Disgrace of Gijon, 1982

The last match of Group 2, was West Germany Vs Austria. West Germany had lost to Algeria in their first game, one of the greatest upsets of the World Cup. In their last match against Austria, a win by 1 or 2 goals would have been sufficient for both the Germans and the Austrians to go through at the expense of Algeria.


After the Germans secured a one goal lead, the match settled into a pattern of possession. Both teams would pass the ball amongst themselves or, when threatened or closed down by an opponent, pass it to the keeper.

The performance was roundly criticised, with spectators chanting “Algeria, Algeria” and “Out, out”. One local newspaper even put the match report in its crime section. Eventually West Germany won 1-0 and both they and the Austrians progressed at the expense of Algeria.

To prevent such a thing from happening again, FIFA made sure that all the last rounds matches of groups would be held on the same day from every tournament going forward.

12. The Battle of Nuremberg, 2006

For a match that boasted the creative attacking talents of Luis Figo, Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco, Rafael van der Vaart and Arjen Robben, you’d think the world was in for one hell of a game. Well, it was, just not the way most people thought it would be.


While the only goal of the match was scored in the 23rd minute, that was just a footnote in what’s come to be called the Battle of Nuremberg. 4 red cards. 16 yellow cards. God knows how many fouls. Santiago it was not, but it wasn’t a half bad impression of it either. Funnily enough, for such a vicious game, the most iconic image from the match, would be this one.


The World Cup has had many more controversial moments. Maradona failing a drug test, Cristiano Ronaldo’s wink, the revolt of Roy Keane, the list goes on. Let’s hope this World Cup isn’t remembered for its controversies.