When it comes to the FIFA World Cup, one can expect to find all sorts of moments — some good, some bad and some downright ugly. It is a stage where heroes are made but the tournament also has its fair share of villains who crumbled under the pressure of the occasion.
Argentina legend Diego Maradona is probably the biggest example of a player who has seen both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during this competition. From being the messiah of his team in 1986 and 1990, he came crashing down to earth in 1994 when he was sent home for doping. The football community was left stunned by his fall from grace and the team had to bear the brunt of the controversy as they lost to Romania in their Round of 16 encounter.
LOSING THEIR HEADS
This was certainly not the first time when the pressure of the World Cup got the better of established footballers. Dutch defender Frank Rijkaard and German striker Rudi Voller are not names that one relates to on-field altercations, but the duo was involved in one of the ugliest fights in the tournament’s history. Tempers were flaring during their match in the 1990 World Cup and when Rijkaard was booked for a foul, he reacted by spitting at the back of the Voller’s head.
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A similar incident happened in the final of the 2006 World Cup and this time, the villain was France’s favourite son — Zinedine Zidane. The clash against Italy was supposed to be his grand farewell, but his temper got the better of him.
He ended up headbutting Marco Materazzi and although it was the defender who was guilty of making derogatory comments about Zidane’s sister, the French star was sent off on the spot and Italy went on to lift the title after winning on penalties.
TAKING IT TOO FAR
The footballers are not the only ones who have been responsible for incidents that brought shame to the tournament. Sometimes, the situations are out of their control and the matches have huge implications on matters far away from the field.
In 1938, the Italian football team faced such a situation when their political leader, Benito Mussolini, ordered them to wear black jerseys with the fascist symbol on their kits during their match against France. They were also under a lot of pressure from the government and it reached such a point that when Hungary lost to Italy in the final, goalkeeper Antal Szabo said that “I may have let in four goals, but at least I saved their lives”.
However, the ugly side of football raised its head once more in 1994 as Colombia defender Andres Escobar was shot 12 times outside a bar in his home city of Medellin after his own goal eliminated the Latin American country from the tournament. Reports suggested that Escobar’s own-goal had cost local betting syndicates a huge amount of money and the footballer had to pay with his life.
When football wasn’t beautiful
1990 Netherlands vs West Germany
Rijkaard loses cool, spits at Rudi Voller
A Germany-Netherlands game is always tense considering their troubled political history and the round of 16 match was no different. However, this incident involved two of the most high-profile footballers of that time — Dutch defender Frank Rijkaard and German striker Rudi Voller. In the intense pressure built by the game, tempers flared early in the first half and Rijkaard was booked for a foul on Voller, and later both were sent off. Rijkaard reacted by spitting at Voller, which stuck to his hair. They later expressed regret for the incident but it will forever be a blot on their legacies.
1994 Colombia vs USA
The own goal which cost Andres Escobar his life
Colombia were favourites to top their group in 1994 but a 3-1 loss against Romania meant they needed a win over US to reach the knockouts. At 1-1 and with less than half an hour to go, defender Andres Escobar deflected a cross into his own net. That proved to be the decider and Colombia were eliminated despite beating Switzerland in their final group match. Just 10 days later, Escobar was shot 12 times outside a bar in his home city of Medellin. A local teacher was found guilty but served just 11 years. Reports suggested that Escobar’s own goal had cost local betting syndicates huge losses.
2006 France vs Italy
Zinedine Zidane’s infamous headbutt
The 2006 edition was supposed to be a grand farewell for Zinedine Zidane, one of the best footballers of all time. However, things did not go according to plan as he ended headbutting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the final and was shown a direct red card. According to Zidane, Materazzi had made derogatory remarks about Zidane’s mother and sister, and he lost his temper. His dismissal was a huge blow for France as they lost on penalties. Later, Zidane made it quite clear that he "would rather die" than apologise to Marco Materazzi for the incident.
2010 Uruguay vs Ghana
The ‘handicraft’ of Suarez in denying Ghana
This was probably the first time Luis Suarez’s penchant for getting involved in needless controversies came to the fore. During the quarter-finals, Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah was able to connect perfectly with a corner and it looked like they would take the lead with few minutes remaining in extra time. However, Suarez deliberately stopped the ball with his hands on the goalline and was sent off. A penalty was promptly awarded to Ghana, but Asamoah Gyan was unable to convert it. It sparked celebrations by Suarez who was eagerly watching from the tunnel after being sent off. Uruguay eventually defeated Ghana on penalties and it was Suarez’s unsporting act that had helped them reach the semi-final.
2014 Uruguay vs Italy
Suarez gets away with biting Giorgio Cheillini
With the winners set to reach the round of 16, the group league match between Italy and Uruguay in 2014 started on a bad note when Claudio Marchisio was sent off for a reckless tackle on Uruguay’s Egidio Arevalo Rios. a few minutes later though match officials failed to notice Suarez biting Chiellini and that saved him from being sent off. This despite Chiellini showing the bite marks on his shoulder. After the match, FIFA launched an investigation and Suarez was suspended for nine international matches and banned for four months from any football activity. A few days later, Suarez issued an apology on Twitter.