The most serious refereeing errors in World Cup history

There is no doubt that the World Cup is the most important and most awaited event for football fans. Every four years, the entire planet pauses and pays attention at the event that brings together the best teams of the moment. In spite of FIFA’s meticulous organization, even the most important football competition has its inevitable problems, such as refereeing mistakes. 

22 June 22 1986: Argentina and England faced each other at the Azteca stadium, during the World Cup in Mexico; the Falklands war was over, and the warfare inevitably slipped into the climate of the momentous football match. After five minutes and 26 seconds played in the second half, in the dynamics of the game, Diego Maradona was in an offside position, but the bad action of the defender enables him correctly and the ball falls into the penalty area. The Argentina captain went in search of the ball, jumping alongside goalkeeper Peter Shilton. The goalkeeper rises with his right fist extended, at the same time that Maradona does it with his left arm, close to his head, hidden in the technical gesture, and strikes the ball before his opponent, directing it towards the goal. Maradona began to celebrate, while looking at the assistant referee Bogdan Dotchev, who did not indicate anything abnormal. Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur was poorly positioned: players screened him and Maradona's own head was hiding his mischief. Consequently, he delegated the responsibility to his referee teammate. Given the uncertainty and the lack of any assistance from his colleague Dotchev, who did not offer any signal and ran towards the halfway line, and despite the protests of the English players, Bennaceur, decided not to cancel what he had not seen and awarded the goal that was immortalized as "The hand of God". Of course, the goal was poorly validated, but the VAR technology would only arrive with the new century. Just as it happened on the pitch, the referee justified his mistake by trust towards his linesman. This was reflected in his release before the authorities: “I was waiting for Dotchev to give me a clue of what exactly had happened, but he did not point to the hand. And the instructions that FIFA gave us before the game were clear: if a colleague was in a better position than mine, I had to respect his view.” FIFA never clarified during the competition whether the goal had been scored illegally, as the images proved, but the Tunisian did not referee any more matches at the World Cup. 

The referee of the match, played on 30 July 1966, at the legendary Wembley Stadium, was the Swiss Gottfried Dienst, while one of his assistants that afternoon was the hesitant Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov. Both were absolute protagonists of a wrong decision. The stopwatch marked 11 minutes into the first overtime when local striker Geoff Hurst fired a powerful shot past goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski, the ball crashed violently into the crossbar and hit the goal line without entering the goal. However, the referee, who did not observe the action well, decided to consult what happened with his linesman, while the players stood waiting for the decision. Both agreed to award the goal, which years later was going to receive the title "ghost goal", so that England went up 3-2 on the scoreboard and headed for what would be their first and only World Cup title. In 1995, following a thorough study, the University of Oxford reported that the ball was missing six centimeters to cross the goal line, which became one of the most grotesque goals in history. 

In the first match of the Brazilian team against Sweden in Group B, an unusual situation occurred: when the score was tied, the Welsh referee Clive Thomas awarded a corner kick to Sweden a few seconds from the end. Zico executed the corner and kicked the ball at the same time that the referee decided to whistle the end of the match. The stadium was speechless to see that while the final whistle still sounded the ball slipped into the goal of Sweden. The goal was not allowed. That tie put Brazil in trouble from the start of the tournament and, despite finishing as second in Group 3, behind Austria, they would end up being eliminated in the second phase. 

The two teams were equal, 1-1, when, after 60 minutes, the German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher came out to play a contested ball with the Frenchman Patrick Battiston. However, in his intention to find and play the ball, he ended up hitting the French player’s head, a clear fact of serious foul play, forcing Battiston to leave the field on a stretcher. The referee, the Dutchman Charles Corver, not only did not send off the goalkeeper for the unsporting act, but he did not even sanction the foul as he awarded a goal kick for the Germans. After 90 minutes, both teams were still tied, so with a 3-3 result they had to decide the ticket to the final through a penalty shootout, in which Germany prevailed 5-4. 

The host South Korea played against Spain in the quarter-finals on 22 June 2002 in Gwangju. That afternoon, the Egyptian referee Gamal El-Ghandour was going to have a nightmare performance, having annulled two goals of Spain. After invalidating the first goal converted by Ruben Baraja, alleging that there was a previous foul of the player at the time of the action, the referee made a very serious error in the second goal annulled when he grossly understood that the ball had left the field of play before it ended up in the back of the net. The ball actually never left the field and Spain, which equaled 0-0 in regular time, ended up being eliminated on penalties. This widely discussed errors in the media caused the President of the Spanish FA, Villar, to resign from the Referees Committee. 

On 27 June 2010, Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda made one of those mistakes that will remain in the World Cup history. After Germany took a 2-0 lead on the scoreboard, England was able to react quickly with a goal from Matthew Upson. One minute after the break, Frank Lampard had a shot, the ball hit the crossbar and clearly hit the ground inside of the goal line. But the goal was never validated. The assistant referee Mauricio Espinosa, also Uruguayan, did not raise his flag and Larrionda continued the game. The speed of the action and the position of the assistant did not allow him to observe that the ball had entered the goal completely. Without the goal awarded, Germany led by Joachim Low took advantage of England's desperation and won 4-1 to advance to the next phase. 

One of the most outrageous moments in World Cup history was in Spain 1982. The protagonists: Sheikh Fahid Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah from Kuwait and Soviet referee Miroslav Stupar. The score was 4-1 in favour of France, thanks to goals from Genghini, Platini, Six and Bossis. The game was a formality for the French against a lower team; however, after 89 minutes and after the last goal by those in blue, a scandal broke out. The Asian defense was inexplicably stopped believing that a whistle had blown from the pitch. From the box, a man in a robe and turban stood up and began to make clear hand gestures, inviting the Kuwaiti national team players to leave the field. It was Al-Sabah, president of the Kuwaiti Football Federation and brother of the emir of the small country of the Persian Gulf. Seeing that his players and the coaching staff did not understand him very well, he decided to go down and enter the field of play. The sheik addressed his players, continuing to threaten the referee. Unusually, referee Stupar annulled the goal and ordered a dropped ball. The sheik received a $10,000 fine from FIFA - a tip for him - and the referee was heavily penalized: he lost his FIFA badge and never refereed again an international match. 

Argentina missed the opportunity to earn its third star in Brazil 2014 due to a referee error in the final against Germany. The Italian Nicola Rizzoli was appointed and committed a conceptual setback by not sanctioning the clear lack of attention by goalkeeper Manuel Neuer on striker Gonzalo Higuaín. Rizzoli did not respect the protocol that must be followed to decide on the level of the applied force and its consequences. There is no doubt that Neuer was the one who initiated contact with his knee, putting Higuain's safety at risk. The recklessness, the distance and the speed that he brings without any concern and the force with which he reaches could cause even an injury to his opponent. The regulation stipulates that a reckless action, that is, the force used by Neuer on contact, will be penalized with a direct free kick or a penalty kick. At no time does it say that, being the goalkeeper and reaching the ball earlier authorizes him to run the risk of injury to the opponent or to contest the ball with disproportionate force. History will say that the German was fouled by Higuain, but the correct thing would be the sanction of the penalty and yellow card, which deprived Argentina of a possibility of going on to win the match and dream of their third gold medal. FIFA never commented on it or came up with an analysis of the play.