We take a look at some of the biggest controversies to take place during the World Cup.

The 11 Biggest World Cup Controversies

The World Cup has seen some of the greatest moments in football history take place, but it has never been immune to controversial moments either. From Diego Maradona, to the awarding of the tournament to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, the World Cup has produced countless contentious moments. In this piece we take a look at some of the biggest to have taken place during the World Cup. No doubt, the incidents below made us forget about the football and instead they were the major talking points of the tournaments. So without further ado.

Hand of God (1986)

Arguably the most incredible moment in World Cup history, Diego Maradona’s blatant handball to lift the ball over England goalkeeper Peter Shilton put his Argentina side 1-0 up in the quarter-final. It appeared as if everyone in the England team, and the majority in the stadium knew he handled the ball but the only person that matters is the referee and he let the goal stand. A truly incredible moment of cheating by one of the greatest players ever, who would lead Argentina to glory that year.

Maradona’s Hand of God (Getty Images)

Graham Poll Gives The Same Player Three Yellow Cards (2006)

In 2006, English referee Graham Poll famously booked the same player, Josip Simunic, three times in a group stage match between Croatia and Australia. In the 61st minute, Simunic was booked for a foul on Harry Kewell, and then in the 90th he produced another bad foul to get booked again. Poll did not send him off though. In the 93rd minute, Simunic was again booked and finally Poll sent him off in one of the most memorable moments in recent tournaments

Graham Poll gives Josip Simunic his third and final yellow card (Getty Images)

South Korea Match Fixing (2002)

Another tournament shrouded in controversy after the host nation did a lot better than expected, South Korea in 2002 benefitted from several decisions that were incredibly controversial. In the round of 16 against Italy, referee Byron Moreno of Ecuador disallowed a goal and sent off Francesco Totti for diving. South Korea won 2-1 on a golden goal thanks to Ahn Jung-Hwan.

Then in the next round against Spain, Egyptian referee Gamal Al-Ghandour disallowed two legal Spanish goals and the Spanish were deemed to be offside almost constantly by the linesman. South Korea won 5-3 on penalties to get into the semi-finals.

It should be acknowledged that both referees were forced to retire shortly after the tournament due to match fixing and being bribed to help South Korea advance.

South Korea benefitted from several decisions in 2002 (Getty Images)

England vs West Germany 1966 Final

Another massive moment in World Cup history occurred during the 1966 World Cup Final between England and West Germany. In the 101st minute, England striker Geoff Hurst pivoted and hit a shot into the crossbar that bounced downwards and out of the goal. The Swiss referee Gottfried Diest was unsure if the ball crossed the line, but Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov signalled it did which put England 3-2 up. This moment has divided opinion for years. Was it a goal or wasn’t it?

Geoff Hurst’s third goal has divided opinion since 1966 (Getty Images)

Battle of Santiago (1962)

One of the most infamous matches in tournament history, the ‘Battle of Santiago’ took place in 1962 between Chile and Italy. Amidst clear tensions after Italian journalists called Santiago a dump (it was still recovering from a 9.5 Richter Scale earthquake), both sides proceeded to assault each other in a myriad of ways. The first foul came after 12 seconds and the first sending off was in the 12th minute. Punches, kicks, and numerous scuffles meant the police had to intervene three times during the match, which Chile won 2-0.

The Battle of Santiago was a remarkable match for its violence (Getty Images)

West Germany and Austria conspire against Algeria (1982)

This game is famous for its ‘Anti-Football’ aspect. Algeria were playing in their first World Cup and shocked the world when they beat favourites West Germany 2-1. Extremely close to advancing to the next phase of the tournament. However with the final group games played at different times, West Germany knew that a 1-0 victory would put them and Austria through and Algeria would be eliminated.

Ten minutes in the Germans scored thanks to Horst Hrubesch. Both teams then proceeded to do nothing the rest of the game to maintain that scoreline. Algeria would complain but to no avail, they were eliminated and from this point on, final group games are all played at the same time.

West Germany and Austria caused controversy in 1982 (Getty Images)

1978 World Cup Fixed?

Argentina‘s first World Cup victory was believed to have been fixed, with the military dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla probably playing a huge part. Taking place in Argentina there were several incidents which push many to this tournament fixing conclusion. For example during the final match in the second round of the group stages, Argentina needed to beat Peru by four goals to get into the final instead of Brazil. Inexplicably, Argentina won 6-0 in a match widely recognised to have been fixed. It doesn’t help that Peru goalkeeper Ramon ‘El Loco’ Quiroga

Then in the final against the Dutch, the men from the Netherlands were forced to take an extra long route to the stadium, and took to the field ten minutes before the Argentinian side, meaning they had to face the hostility of 70,000 fans for that time. The game itself was brutal but the majority of 50-50 decisions went the way of the host nation and they emerged 3-1 winners in one of the most controversial tournaments ever.

Mario Kempes celebrates during the 1978 Final. The tournament is thought to have been fixed (Getty Images)

Harald Schumacher takes out Patrick Battiston (1982)

During the World Cup semi-final between West Germany and France, substitute Battiston was trying to latch onto the ball as it went towards the German penalty area. What he didn’t see was goalkeeper Schumacher coming at him.

Schumacher in a horrifically dirty play, turned his body and took out the Frenchman which changed his life forever. Damaged vertebrae, two teeth smashed out and knocked unconscious, Battiston was stretchered off the pitch and nearly lost his life. Schumacher received nothing and a goal kick was given. The Germans would win and go on tools the final against Italy.

Schumacher jumps past the ball and nearly kills Battiston, but receives nothing (Getty Images)

Italy Fascism against France (1938) 

During a quarter-final match against France, Italy were forced to wear a white kit because France played in blue and they were the tournament hosts that year. However, under Benito Mussolini’s orders, the Italians came out wearing a black kit, which was the symbol of the hated Italian fascist paramilitary. This only enraged the French crowd who hated Fascist Italy anyway. Italy would win 3-1 and go on to win the tournament.

Italy wore black kits to infuriate the french in 1938 (Getty Images)

Frank Lampard’s Non-Goal (2010)

In the 2010 World Cup, during a quarter-final match between England and Germany, the match was poised at 2-1. Frank Lampard then hit a shot from just outside the box which hit the crossbar and appeared to cross the line substantially. It rebounded back over the line and Manuel Neuer caught the ball and carried on. Everyone in the stadium knew the ball went in, but unlike 1966, the referee did not give the goal. It was this moment that pushed many to start calling for video technology in football. Germany would win 4-1.

World Cup is Stolen (1966) 

Four months before the tournament was set to take place in England, the trophy was stolen from a public exhibition at Westminster Central Hall. Despite 24-hour security, the theft caused outrage, and the perpetrators demanded a ransom of £15,000. The entire police force was mobilised but ultimately it was found by Pickles the dog.

Pickles the dog found the World Cup trophy in 1966 (Getty Images)

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