There are a few things that are constant when it comes to the FIFA World Cup — extravagance, top class football and a healthy dose of controversies. From political tensions to on-field clashes, not a single edition of the tournament has been free of some dispute or other and this year’s competition is proving to be no different. With less than a month to go, the organisers are already in the news following allegations of racism and corruption against them. And with the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) making its debut, there seems to be no shortage of drama in the build-up to the tournament.
The only place where FIFA has succeeded in ending controversies is with the timing of the group stage games. It is a common practice nowadays for all final fixtures in the World Cup group stage to be played simultaneously and that is because of what happened to Algeria in 1982.
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Due to the different timings of the games, West Germany and Austria knew a 1-0 win for the former will be enough for both teams to advance. That was exactly the result the two teams produced to knock out Algeria.
However, when it comes to controversies, referees are the biggest targets, with the tournament witnessing some truly horrible decisions.
A few days ago, news broke that a World Cup referee has been banned for life for a match-fixing attempt in Saudi Arabia, weeks before he was due to fly to Russia.
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) said that Fahad Al Mirdasi confessed to offering to fix the King’s Cup final.
The controversy could not have taken place at a worse time as the World Cup has no shortage of controversies involving suspicious decisions from on-field referees.
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Back in 1982, hosts Spain were awarded a penalty for a foul that took place clearly two yards outside the area. Although their opponents — Yugoslavia — accused the referee of favouring their opponents, nothing was ever proven.
In 2002, Byron Moreno of Ecuador and Egypt’s Gamal Al-Ghandour found themselves in the eye of storm as they were accused of helping hosts South Korea.
Shortly after the tournament, both referees were forced to retire due to match-fixing allegations and it was even reported that Al-Ghandour received a brand new car from South Korea.
This edition of the tournament will be a bit different from the past editions thanks to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology at the referee’s disposal.
Imagine if there were multiple camera angles to decide whether the ball crossed the line in the 1966 World Cup final when England beat West Germany, or Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ incident in 1986 against England.
VAR is not foolproof yet, but had it existed then, a lot of endless debates could have been avoided.
1978 Argentina vs Peru
Peru knock Brazil out of the competition
In 1978, the second round in the World Cup consisted of two groups of four teams each with the winner of each group advancing to the final. However, as the last group matches were not played simultaneously, Argentina knew they needed to win by four goals against Peru in order to secure a final berth ahead of Brazil. The score was 2-0 at half-time, but Peru simply collapsed in the second half. Argentina ended up winning the game 6-0, and as a result, they booked their place in the final, where they went on to defeat a strong Netherlands in another controversial encounter. There were rumors that Peru had been bribed into letting hosts Argentina win by a big margin, but the accusations were never proven.
1982 West Germany vs Austria
How West Germany and Austria ousted Algeria
Playing in their first-ever World Cup, Algeria started brilliantly with a win over West Germany and they were favourites to reach the knockout stages. With final group matches not happening simultaneously in those days, West Germany and Austria knew that a 1-0 win for the former would be enough for both to advance. Within 10 minutes of the first half, West Germany went ahead and the game became painfully slow after that. Both West Germany and Austria advanced to the next round. West German manager Jupp Derwall had this to say about his team’s performance - "we wanted to progress, not play football."
Maradona expelled after testing positive
The 1986 and 1990 editions of the FIFA World Cup made Diego Maradona one of the biggest football superstars. The world was in awe of the maestro after he guided his team to two consecutive finals and comparisons with Pele further elevated his status. However, it all came crashing down in 1994 when he tested positive for drugs and was immediately sent home from the World Cup by the Argentina Football Association. Maradona said he took an assortment of drugs to help combat a sinus problem, his weight and diet before the group game against Nigeria. Argentina were shaken by the loss of their talisman and were eliminated in the group stages. Maradona had served a 15-month ban for cocaine use in 1991-92.
Referees ‘back’ hosts South Korea to semis
Co-hosts South Korea were able to reach the knockout stages after an inconsistent show but against Italy in the Round of 16, referee Byron Moreno of Ecuador disallowed an Italian goal and then controversially sent off Francesco Totti. South Korea won 2-1 on golden goal from Ahn Jung-Hwan. The trend continued in their quarter-final against Spain as Egyptian referee Gamal Al-Ghandour disallowed two Spanish goals and South Korea went on to win 5-3 on penalties. Both referees were forced to retire for match-fixing soon after. It was later reported Ghandour was gifted a car for helping Korea advance to the semis.
Anelka sent home for fighting with coach
France players refused to train under coach Raymond Domenech protesting his decision to send striker Nicolas Anelka back from South Africa after an altercation. The incident happened during France’s group match against Mexico with Anelka reportedly saying "Go f**k yourself, you son of a w***e," to Domenech. This was not the first time a star was sent home from the World Cup. Ireland’s Roy Keane too was handed the punishment in 2002. The Manchester United star got into a row with manager Mick McCarthy and decided to retire from international football after being left out.