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10 most controversial football matches of all time

Michael Ballack argues with the referee during the 2009 Champions League semi-final
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Siddhant

It is inevitable that in football, human errors contribute to matches being won or lost. Shots will be missed, passes will be misplaced and errors will be made within those ninety plus minutes.

However, there is nothing as irritating and disappointing for any football fan when decisions are made against their team, or unusual circumstances arise that should have never happened in the first place.

And thus, controversy ensues, helped by the mere fact that players, coaches and even fans think and know that every single call should have gone their way, especially if it’s something that could have helped their team. Any given game has moments where one side or the other feel that they have been cheated somehow.

But nothing manages to evoke as much criticism or even passion when talked about as these games continue to be debated and talked about till date, memories fresh in the mind of those who witnessed it first hand and from those who managed to find a youtube video or two about the match itself!


#10 Manchester United 2-0 Arsenal (24/10/2004)

One of the most aggressive games in Premier League history

For a few years on either side of the millennium, Arsenal’s intense rivalry with Manchester United was well known and one of the fiercest in English football, thanks to both Sir Alex and Arsene Wenger. This showdown, however, was dubbed as the ‘Battle of Old Trafford Mark II’, after the events of the previous season. A year later and the battle was as physical, feisty encounter as it’s predecessor.

Jose Antonio Reyes took the brunt of the tackles and both the Neville brothers were booked for rather robust challenges on the Spaniard, but Arsenal matched United tackle for tackle and Cristiano Ronaldo was made a target more than a few times by the Arsenal players. The game changed after the 73rd minute after Rooney went down in the box under a Sol Campbell “challenge”.

Nistelrooy stepped up and made no mistake this time before Rooney sealed three points with a simple tap in. While the match had its share of incidents, it was post match that had the drama. After the game, the players were walking back through the tunnel when suddenly everything erupted. It soon turned into a fully fledged food fight between the teams and both the managers got into intense verbal fights, with it only ending after a slice of pizza hit Sir Alex Ferguson in the face!!

Wenger was later fined £ 15,000, while Van Nistelrooy was given a three-match ban for the tackle on Ashley Cole and the FA called both teams together for a meeting, to make sure this incident was never repeated.

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#9 Juventus vs Roma 3-2 10/5/14

Roma and Juventus players clash during the game

A more recent encounter, Roma battled Juventus at the Juventus Stadium and it turned out to be a rather dramatic game. Five goals were scored with three of them coming from the spot, as referee Gianluca Rocchi grabbed the headlines for controversial decisions. He awarded three penalties, out of which only one was a clear penalty and sent two players off.

The first penalty came for Juventus after Pirlo’s free-kick hit Maicon’s hand outside the box but after much convincing, the referee changed his decision to a spot-kick. Despite protests by the Roma players, the penalty stood and Carlos Tevez scored. Roma got their own chance from the spot, a mere three minutes later, and Totti made no mistake. He was booked for his extended celebration and Bonucci was booked for trying to stop the Roma players from celebrating!!

Roma scored again and took the lead for the first time through Iturbe, but it was Rocchi at work again. He awarded another penalty to Bianconeri after Pogba was brought down outside the box. Tevez stepped up again and made no mistake before Bonucci’s volley sealed the victory. But the drama over yet, as Morata who had been tackled perfectly by Kostas Manolas, time after time, decided to try his hand at a slide tackle on the defender.

It went as well as a striker’s tackle could have gone, badly i.e., before Manolas got up and shoved Morata who repeated the favour. A fight soon broke out between the two players and it took Max Allegri to separate them. But the game was over for both the striker and the defender as Rocchi walked over and gave the two players their marching orders!!

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#8 Portugal vs Netherlands 25/06/2006

Nuno Valente and Arjen Robben

Both sides met during the 2006 World Cup in a match that will be widely remembered for all the wrong reasons. The two had previously met in the semi-finals of the Euros two years earlier and Portugal proved to be too strong a fight for the Dutch team. But the Dutch was determined to have their revenge, this time around.

The match turned ugly soon after kick-off as the Dutch set the tone with a yellow card for a tackle on Cristiano Ronaldo and then again five minutes later as Khalid Boulahrouz hit the winger and was lucky to escape an early red.

Portugal were no better, and the referee Valentin Ivanov struggled to keep the match under his control. It was clear that Ivanov soon became lost in the game, as his decisions though consistent, lacked any substance and he slowly lost the ability to differentiate between a red and yellow card challenge.

Portugal did manage to win the game and Maniche finished it with ease, three minutes after getting his yellow card. That was the only fair play of the game, as players became human footballs; feet came flying in from everywhere with a headbutt added to the mix, as Ivanov dished out a record-breaking four red cards and sixteen yellow cards.

Perhaps that is why this game has been aptly named as the ‘Massacre of Nuremberg’ as four red cards and 16 yellow cards set a new record!

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#7 Italy vs France 9/07/2006

Fabio Cannavaro asks for an explanation as Materazzi lies on the ground after Zidane’s headbutt

The 2006 world was supposed to be Zidane’s tournament as a player, with the French dominating the Italians despite the scoreline being 1-1. But then the great Zinedine Zidane – playing in his last ever match as a player – wanders past the Azzurri defender Marco Materazzi. And the rest they say is history, as amid a tense and tight Olympiastadion, thousands in Berlin and much more live, watched as the Frenchman and the Italian exchanged words.

France took the lead after the current Real Madrid boss scored from an arguable penalty. Marco Materazzi was at fault, as it was his tackle on Malouda (replays show that there wasn’t any contact) and Les Blues were ahead after seven minutes. However, the Italian defender was not done, not by a long shot, as he put the Italians back on track less than twelve minutes later with a thumping header (ironic??).

But the more important challenge, was in the 110th minute, as Zidane walked back towards Materazzi, and then, in what seemed like slow motion, locked his gaze and unleashed an unstoppable headbutt right into Materazzi’s mid-riff. The Italian fell like a sack of potatoes and Zidane – a god among Los Blancos and France fans alike – joined an elite group of players to have been sent off in a FIFA World Cup final, a rather unfortunate end to a glittering career...

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#6 France vs Ireland 18/11/2009

Willam Gallas scores from Henry’s pass

After winning the first leg in Dublin, France looked through to the 2010 World Cup but the Irish had other ideas. They had come back from losing their home game 1-0 after a sensational equalising goal by Robbie Keane at the Stade de France. And then the French were struggling and struggling badly, with the Irish going into extra time the better team –until the decision that made Thierry Henry an enemy to Irish men and women till his last breath.

The Frenchman blatantly used his hand to stop the ball from going outside, not once but twice before setting up Willam Gallas for the winning goal, a moment that has hung over the forward’s head since.

The injustice wasn’t just the fact that the goal stood; the Irish had deserved a win from what was a huge heartful performance that has become unique to any underdog, and they were the underdogs against an impressive French team. Trapattoni’s side dominated at the Stade de France that day, continuing their trend of beating big teams and while they almost never have world class players in their midst, they almost always have a resilience beyond other sides.

Unfortunately for them, luck and Henry’s hand wasn’t on their side that day, but they may have taken pleasure in the fact that France was knocked out in the group stages itself, losing to Mexico and South Africa!!

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#5 Argentina vs England 23/07/1966

Rattin and his teammates protesting against referee Rudolf Kreitlein

England and Argentina have one of the intense rivalries in world football, possibly one of the only classical cross-continental rivalries that exist. But it all started in the 1966 quarter-final of the World Cup, where Argentina progressed after wins over Spain and Switzerland. England, on the other hand, beat Mexico and France but drew against Uruguay.

The referee for the match, Rudolf Kreitlein from West Germany made a call that is till today considered one of the strangest in World Cup history. In the 25th minute, the Argentine captain Antonio Rattin was suddenly expelled from the match (red cards hadn’t been introduced yet). After a long discussion with the ref, Rattin refused to leave the game.

The reason for Rattin’s expulsion? Kreitlein said that he didn’t like the way the Argentine captain was looking at him and thus had decided to remove him from the match!!

But despite the entire match being overshadowed by this decision, the match wasn’t a violent one, nothing in comparison to what Portugal did to Brazil in the first round. But Alf Ramsey’s comment after the match was uncalled for in which he referred to the Argentine players as animals. He even went so far as to stop his English players from exchanging shirts with the Argentine side, who outplayed that English side despite being down to ten men.

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#4 Serbia vs Albania 14/10/2014

Serbia and Albania players clash with each other as the match comes to a screeching halt.

Drones, flags, and violence outdid what was supposed to be a Euro 2016 qualifier between Serbia and Albania. It was tempting to think that Albania’s first visit to Belgrade since 1967 was going to finish without an incident. The Serbian team had dominated the slow-paced game and looked favourites to win the despite the game being at 0-0. But as half-time approached, that was soon going to change, within the next few seconds.

Martin Atkinson had already stopped play after a flare was thrown from the stands and had disrupted an Albanian corner and he had to do it again after another flare nearly hit a player.

But there was something else going on and it took a Serbian player to alert the English referee and Atkinson saw a small drone hovering about the pitch. The device was lowering a flag on to the pitch, which Serbia’s Stefan Mitrovic caught and that was all it took for the atmosphere to change.

Within seconds, the defender was confronted by two Albanian players who attempted to retrieve the flag; chairs and other projectiles were thrown towards the players as members of each team’s support staff flooded the field, which further escalated the matter. The match was eventually called off and stadium security was criticised heavily after supporters managed to enter the field and chase after players.

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#3 South Korea vs Italy 18/06/2002

Hong Myung-Bo and Paolo Maldini look on as Moreno tosses the coin

When a football matches feature on three different lists for the most controversial football games of all time, you know that something went wrong. But while the South Korean team deserve credit for making it past the group stages, it was their knockout stages performance which embroiled them in controversy.

The Italians brought with them a world class squad to the 2002 World Cup, with the likes of Alessandro del Piero, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro and even Gianluigi Buffon all in their prime.

They finished second in the group and their reward was South Korea as their opponents for the last-16 stage. The Italian fans trembled – they had been knocked out by North Korea during the 1966 World Cup – that there was a slight chance that South Korea could produce what their neighbours once did. But could the Koreans really overcome what was touted to be Italy’s golden generation?

They did, thanks to a match full of bad decisions made by the referee, Byron Moreno. Against Guss Hiddink’s men, Italy again had a goal disallowed, a golden goal which would have taken them to next round. del Piero, Zambrotta, and Maldini were all subject to bookable offences by the Koreans but it all went unpunished; while Totti was sent off for diving.

Italy eventually lost, after Jung-Hwan’s golden goal winner, but both the match and Moreno have gone down in Italian footballing history. But South Korea’s problems were not over, as they faced Spain through further controversy, the Spaniards had two goals disallowed before the Koreans won the game 5-3 on penalties.

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#2 West Germany vs Austria 25/06/1982

West Germany would finish runners-up in the 1982 World Cup

When West Germany took on Austria back in 1982, everyone expected the Germans to get revenge for Cordoba, where the Austrians had beaten them 3-2. But what followed was a match, which has since been dubbed the “Disgrace of Gijon”. A match so controversial that one West Germany supporter burnt his national flag, crowds of Algerian fans were waving banknotes and white handkerchiefs and the Spanish were chanting “Fuera, Fuera” (”Out, Out”).

Both West Germany and Austria went into the game, knowing that since Algeria had attained four points from their three games (W2 L1) and would be guaranteed a place in the next round, provided that West Germany didn’t defeat Austria by one or two goals in the final game. The game started and the Germans launched wave after wave of attacks on the Austrian goal, scoring after 10 minutes of play.

For the next eighty odd minutes, the game was described best by David Goldbat in his book, The Ball is Round, when he wrote: “the next 80 minutes were played out as a grotesque and interminable kickabout.” And although no one till date has managed to prove that some collusion took place between both the teams, neither team really made a proper attempt to score another goal.

Fans around the world were outraged by the game and that display of football turned an entire generation of German fans away from the national team. This has, however, lead to a change in the World Cup, as both the final group stage matches are now played on the same day.

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#1 Barcelona vs Chelsea 06/05/2009

The referee Tom Henning Ovrebo’s performance was severely criticised

Labelled as one of the most eccentric Champions League matches ever and one of the most controversial games of all time, Barcelona managed to somehow qualify for the finals after what can only be called as bad refereeing. Chelsea was within minutes of earning a spot in the Champions League final when Andres Iniesta destroyed their hopes in extra-time and enraged the home supporters who were already suffering, thanks to Tom Henning Ovrebo.

The match saw at least six penalty decisions denied to the Blues, although on replay only four of the six were incorrect decisions. Micheal Essien’s sensational volley gave them the lead before Eric Abidal was sent off and Barcelona were reduced to ten men.

Barcelona charged forward for one final attack, with Lionel Messi at the helm. He passed it to Iniesta – after the Chelsea defence give him no space to take the shot – and the Spaniard scored the away goal that took the Catalans into the final. Both Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack were disgusted as they confronted Ovrebo after the match, with the Ivory Coast international even screaming into the camera.

That simply made matters worse as Drogba was banned for five games while Ovrebo later admitted to the mistakes.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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