A cup of hope, a cup of dreams, but what many fail to call it is the cup of “controversy”. The football competition, “FIFA World Cup” which sees countries from around the globe compete for football’s most prestigious prize —“the Jules Rimet trophy” has surely left the world with a lot of memories. Memories of ecstasy, memories of despair, and even a few that leaves faithful totally numb and emotionless — such is the passion the FIFA World Cup possesses.
The stakes are always high when it comes to the FIFA World Cup and getting over the line — which is a necessity for many sides, comes at a cost. Controversy, gamesmanship, and borderline cheating are all employed by teams to essentially get over the line.
The 2022 edition of the tournament draws the curtain in a few days and it hasn’t been without its fair share of controversy, with the hallmark being the record-breaking 17 yellow cards dished out by Spanish Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz an act which eventually resulted in FIFA’s refereeing committee bringing the Spaniard’s time at the Mundial to an early close.
Here are our 5 most controversial World Cup moments you won’t believe ever happened:
- Awarding hosting rights to Qatar
Starting off the list has to be one of the most topical issues in modern-day football. “Awarding the World Cup hosting right to Qatar.”
A decision that raised brows and had stakeholders waxing lyrical, so much so that it is believed to be the most scrutinized in the competition's history.
While the World Cups editions played under fascist governments (Italy 1934), murderous regimes (Argentina 1978), governments under crisis (Espana 1982), and warmongers (Russia 2018) were extremely unpopular among many, no tournament had received so many iterations as Qatar 2022. Qatar's human rights record and ethical morality were brought under the spotlight and so much was said of the Integrity of football’s governing body (FIFA), that Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the man who opened the envelope to reveal Qatar's successful bid to host the finals, admitted they should have never been awarded the tournament, due to a myriad of reasons.
The treatment of migrant workers who built the infrastructure for the tournament, laws against LGBT people, its attitudes towards women, and on the footballing side, the fact that it will be the first-ever winter World Cup for nations in the Northern Hemisphere due to the intense heat in Qatar, are all facets which have proved unpopular across the globe.
- The Day the World Wept for Algeria
An event known by many as the “Disgrace of Dijon”, the only positive from this occurrence in 1982 was that it sparked a wind of change across football globally — reshaping the way final group fixtures across football competitions are being played. The 1982 group-stage clash between West Germany and Austria.
A match that had the Germans staring at elimination unless they secured a win against neighbors Austria, following a loss to Algeria.
The boys from Vienna on the other hand only had to avoid defeat to avoid a defeat of three or more goals to ensure they finish above the North Africans.
Algeria had already played their final group fixture, beating Chile 3-2, so ended the group with four points — two points per win were awarded in this era).
What ensued was quite clearly a pre-planned agreement by the two nations to play out a low-scoring game — a West Germany win to ensure that both sides progressed at the expense of Algeria, and after taking the lead on 10 minutes, both sides then proceeded to idly pass the ball around their defences, and miss the target wildly with any efforts on goal.
Their action received widespread condemnation from the world's press, and their respective football analyst didn’t spear them. The crowd in Gijon, took it a nudge higher, as they chanted the word 'Algeria' while whistling the players for the farce they were portraying in front of them.
In the aftermath, FIFA decided that the final fixtures in a respective group should be played simultaneously from the 1986 World Cup, and that has applied, where possible, ever since in all major club and international tournaments.
- The Argentine Conspiracy (1978)
A tournament uniquely drafted in a format that saw the host nations Argentina secure a place in the final just by winning its group was nothing short of controversial. This was further bolstered by the fact the final group games were not played simultaneously.
After Brazil defeated Poland 3-1 in the other game in the group, Argentina knew what they needed to do to qualify for the final when they faced Peru in their own final fixture the following day - win by four clear goals to leapfrog Brazil on goal difference.
Facing a goalkeeper who is of Argentine origin, the smell of the rat in the room was quite obvious to everyone, even one with anosmia will perceive it effortlessly. The host were able to knock six goals in past Peru's keeper Ramón Quiroga to get themselves into the World Cup final.
Theories ranging from alleging the Peruvian goalkeeper was born in Argentina to threats being made towards the Peruvian players were all bandied about, and it was not until decades later that some of those in the Peru side and within the Peruvian government at the time confirmed that a deal had been made and the players were pressured to underperform.
It is believed that a political agreement was made between the two nations in favour of Peru, so in return, they would agree to 'throw' the game so Argentina could reach the final, a final they would go on to win against the Netherlands.
- South Korea's run to the semi-finals, in 2002
Becoming the first Asian side to feature In the Semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup was quite a feat and the 2002 South Korean side, led by Russian Guss Hiddink did achieve this feat. But not without eyebrows being raised.
Officials being accused of aiding a home nation to World Cup glory is nothing new, as Italy in 1934, England in 1966, and Argentina in 1978 are three famous examples where teams have been accused of receiving favourable decisions which helped them on their way to home successes.
When the World Cup came to Asia for the first time in 2002, these conspiracies came out of the woodwork again, with some holding the belief that co-hosts South Korea in particular were given multiple dodgy decisions in their favour to ensure their progression through the tournament so as to drum up more interest among the home crowd.
Their knockout matches against Italy and Spain have come under intense scrutiny ever since - so much so that then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter had to come out and admit that some of the officiating at the finals had been a disaster.
Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno disallowed a perfectly legitimate goal and sent off Francesco Totti for a non-existent dive in Italy's last-16 encounter with the Koreans, while Spain were denied two legitimate goals of their own in the quarter-final, with the linesmen accused of flagging Spanish attackers offside without a second thought, no matter how tight it looked.
With South Korea's run to the semi-final deemed farcical, they had done little to win over neutrals when the plucky underdogs faced Germany, where they were finally eliminated and also lost in the third-place playoff to Turkey just days later.
- Geoff Hurst's Goal (1966)
One of the most controversial moments in sports history happened in the 101st minute of the final of the 1966 FIFA World Cup.
The final between England and West Germany, saw hat-trick hero, England's Geoff Hurst hit his shot off the crossbar, which ricochet down onto the goal line and went out.
On the play, Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst appeared undecided as to if the ball had crossed the line or not, but his Soviet assistant referee Tofik Bakhramov signaled to Dienst that the ball crossed the line. According to Bakhramov's memoirs, he believed the ball had bounced back not from the crossbar, but from the net, which made the movement insignificant.
Given the limited technology available at the time, no conclusive answer can ever be given on whether the ball crossed the line but using one particular camera angle mixed with modern advancements, estimates reveal that only 97% of the ball crossed the line, meaning it should not have stood.
The West German press accused Bahramov of bias against them given that they had eliminated the USSR in the semi-finals, while England were forever grateful to the linesman, and paid tribute to him when England faced Azerbaijan in 2004 at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium in Baku, renamed following his death in 1993.
According to a story of when Bakhramov was on his deathbed, he was asked how he was so sure it was a goal and he gave the one-word reply "Stalingrad", which is the name of the city in the then Soviet Union which over 75,000 Soviets died against Nazi Germany.