Diego Maradona was sent home during the 1994 World Cup for doping.(REUTERS)
Diego Maradona was sent home during the 1994 World Cup for doping.(REUTERS)

2018 FIFA World Cup: Of headbutts, bites and heroes turning villains

A small act of indiscretion has been enough to turn a player idolised by millions into a culprit in no time
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Sayan Ghosh
UPDATED ON MAY 28, 2018 08:44 PM IST

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.


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.

READ | FIFA World Cup: The sad tale of crippling injuries and broken dreams

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.


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.

Story Saved