As much as we want this not to happen, for various reasons football has been involved in controversy throughout history and we have learned that the hard way, whether seeing our teams being robbed or that one club that we don’t like so much being favored at the expense of others. The game is created, played and ruled by humans and it’s not a surprise if we see some mistakes every now and then; however, there have been certain times when these mistakes don’t look like that, but something is done on purpose.
Ever since its creation, this game has had several episodes of matches that were suspicious –to say the least- thanks to the arbitrage, the teams involved in the clashes or even an organizing country or federation. We’ve been able to see matches that created legends, myths, and villains and now we will present you 10 games that will remain in history for their development and consequences.
These are 10 controversial games in football history.
Honorable Mention: Argentina vs. England (1986 FIFA World Cup)
10. Sweden vs. Denmark (2004 UEFA Euro)
More than a decade ago, Swedish and Danish were drawn in the same group that Italy and Bulgaria during the 2004 Euro. In the third and last matchday of the group, Italy arrived in a complex scenario. The Azzurri was obligated to defeat Bulgaria –which they did- and even so, they had to wait for the result of the other game in order to confirm their qualification to the next round.
If Sweden and Denmark ended the game tied with two or more goals, Italy wouldn’t be able to qualify no matter the result of their game and that’s exactly what happened. During the late minutes of the game, the final outcome of the game was set, sending both Sweden and Denmark to the quarter-finals and eliminating Italy in one of the most controversial games of the competition, known as the “biscotto”.
9. West Germany vs. Austria (1982 FIFA World Cup)
This game has a similar story to the one before, as these two national teams decided to pact in order to qualify to the next round of the World Cup and eliminate the sensation of the group and one of the biggest surprises of the entire tournament, Algeria, which counted with very good players like Rabah Madjer and Mustapha Daleb.
The first and only goal of the game was scored in the first half of the game and after that, the two teams said it was good like that and continued to play like they didn’t even want to be there. They played the rest of the game with no intentions of scoring, misplaced passes, and plays without any danger for any net. Angry fans started to yell “Algeria” and “kiss, kiss” at teams, as well as throwing bills and tickets to the pitch.
8. Ireland vs. France (2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers)
Maybe France would have done better if they were unable to qualify to the 2010 World Cup since this play-off warned both the team and fans that they weren’t going to be that good in South Africa. Back in 2009, the Frenchmen found themselves struggling to defeat Ireland, which was qualifying to the World Cup before things fell apart in an awful way.
With a 1-1 aggregate result, the second leg of the playoff headed to an extra time where Thierry Henry used his hand to control the ball in the Irish area before passing it to defender William Gallas that only had to head the ball and take his national side to the World Cup. This game was in everybody’s mouth after that and nowadays remains one of the biggest injustices in modern football.
7. Mexico vs. Panama (2015 Gold Cup)
Back in 2015 Mexico national team wasn’t exactly loved by its fans, who were angry at the team thanks to their performances in the Copa America and the poor game they were displaying in recent games. With that context, they landed in the 2015 Gold Cup semi-finals against Panama, who took the lead of the game in the second half and looked headed to play the tournament of the final.
However, things weren’t going to be that easy and happy for the Central American team, as referee Mark Geiger gifted Mexico a spot-kick that nobody else saw. Mexican captain Andres Guardado kicked and scored from the spot before Geiger awarded “El Tri” with another penalty that took the Mexican team to the cup final, where they became champions against Jamaica.
6. South Korea vs. Italy (2002 FIFA World Cup)
The FIFA World Cup has had some games where bad refereeing was the main starring and this one is certainly one of the most outrageous of all. During the early of the millennium, everybody thought South Korea was about to leave the tournament they were hosting alongside Japan, but Ecuadorian judge Byron Moreno had different ideas.
They faced favorites Italy in the round of 16 and even though the Europeans were the dominator of the entire match, South Korea –helped with the refs- managed to defeat the Azzurri by 2-1 in a game full of fouls that weren’t called, poorly voided goals and terrible decisions overall. This game was surely shocking and it remains like that until today, almost 20 years later.
South Korea would continue its doubtful path the next round, where they faced another giant, Spain, and had a similar fate, eliminating La Roja via penalty shoot-out after a game full of controversy and again, very bad decisions from referees.
5. Netherlands vs. Portugal (2006 FIFA World Cup)
Albeit this one didn’t have bad judges, it surely had bad players from both sides. Portugal and the Netherlands landed in the 2006 World Cup round of 16 decided to take the W and get into the next stage of the competition, even if that meant to play as hard as they could. This was a game that earned the right to be called the “Battle of Nuremberg”.
The Frankestadion was the stage for the game that saw how referee Valentin Ivanov set a FIFA World Cup record by showing 16 yellow cards and four red cards, demonstrating that these two held an authentic war. However, it was Portugal which took the victory and eliminated the Netherland thanks to a goal from Maniche. The Lusitanian went to defeat England in the next round before getting beat by France in the semis.
4. Italy vs. Spain (1934 FIFA World Cup)
The 1934 FIFA World Cup served as an example of how to act and proceed if you want your team to success. Almost a century ago, Italian Prime Minister-turned-to-Dictator Benito Mussolini saw an opportunity in football to reach more people with his questionable ideas. Taking advantage of the World Cup being celebrated in Italy, Mussolini put all his efforts to make the Italian team the World champions.
Every game of that tournament was allegedly rigged in favor of the hosts, but the most scandalous one was between Italy and Spain for the quarter-finals of the tournament. Albeit Spain took the league of the game, Italy responded really quickly, but this goal was highly criticized as the Spanish players claimed a foul committed against their goalkeeper. Following that, Italy started to play a really rough game, with hard tackles and tough plays. The final outcome of the match was a 1-1 tie that sent things to a tie-breaker.
In the end, Spanish goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora had two broken ribs and other six players of the team were unable to play the second game. Even though they had big losses, Spain had the chance to win if it weren’t for two overturned goals and a controversial one scored by Giuseppe Meazza that took the Azzurri to the semi-finals. Italy, as you may know, won that tournament amid huge controversies.
3. Argentina vs. Peru (1978 FIFA World Cup)
This game counts with plenty of stories surrounding it since Argentina was under a military dictatorship that, according to rumors, reached the National team participating in the FIFA World Cup and even their rivals.
During the second stage of that Cup, Argentina and Brazil landed in the third leg with chances to qualify to the final and everything pointed out that Brazil was going to be the side to play in the big game; however, a visit from Dictator Rafael Videla to Peru’s dressing room before the beginning of the match started rumors about the future outcome of the game.
Peru wasn’t the same team they were in prior games and lost to Argentina by 6-0 in a very shocking performance by the Peruvians. Ever since that, there have been plenty of rumors about what was said in that dressing room, but the only certain thing is that Argentina went to play in the final and won the match and the title in front of the Netherlands.
2. England vs. Germany (1966 FIFA World Cup)
These two squads have some history together and mostly in World Cups and knockout phases and this game might be the beginning of one the biggest rivalries in European football. England hosted the 1966 FIFA World Cup and even though they had tough rivals, they managed to get to the final, where Germany was waiting.
The English side was ready to become champions of the world for the first time when Wolfgang Weber tied the scoreboard in the 89th minute of the game, taking the match to extra time. At the 101st minute of the game, a header by Geoff Hurst was awarded as a goal to England and that started the controversy. The German players claimed the ball didn’t completely cross the line, but referees didn’t change their decision, giving the goal to the local team.
England won the game by 4-2 and became world champions. Years later, it was demonstrated that that goal wasn’t completely legal, as only 97% of the ball had crossed the line, making this one of the most infamous moments in World Cups and football in general.
1. Chelsea vs. Barcelona (2008-09 UEFA Champions League)
This game could have probably changed the way we see football right now and how things are managed nowadays. Chelsea and Barcelona knew how to create a big rivalry during the past decade, giving the fans showdowns that we still remember; however, this is the one everybody thinks about when you say Chelsea and Barcelona.
During the 2008/09 Champions League semis, Barcelona and Chelsea were playing a hard-fought but entertaining match. Chelsea was leading the scoreboard but the Blaugrana were trying to tie the game and get into the finals. They eventually did with a long-shot by Andres Iniesta, but that didn’t stop Chelsea to pursue victory and that’s when the controversy took place.
A foul from Dani Alves to Malouda within the area, another contact of Abidal over Didier Drogba, a hand in the area by Gerard Pique and another one from Samuel Eto’o after a shot by Michael Ballack. Norwegian judge Tom Henning missed all those calls that could have sent Chelsea to the UCL final; after that game, Henning didn’t come back to judge in Europe and Barcelona went to be considered the best team in the world.