The FIFA World Cup, a beacon of global football, brings with its dreams, hopes, and, inevitably, controversies. As nations compete for the coveted Jules Rimet trophy, the stakes are sky-high. This competition, brimming with passion, often sees teams crossing boundaries, employing gamesmanship, or even skirting the rules to clinch victory.
Even as we approach the closure of the 2023 edition, world cup controversy remain. A prime example is Spanish Referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz, who handed out a record-breaking 17 yellow cards. This action precipitated his early exit from the tournament at the hands of FIFA’s refereeing committee.
Here are five of the most debated World Cup moments:
Qatar’s Hosting World Cup Controversy
Modern football hasn’t witnessed a decision as divisive as granting Qatar the 2022 World Cup hosting rights. Previous tournaments held in countries with controversial political backgrounds faced backlash, but none quite like Qatar. The spotlight was on Qatar’s human rights practices, treatment of migrant workers, and laws against the LGBT community. Moreover, Sepp Blatter, ex-FIFA president, eventually conceded that awarding Qatar the hosting rights was an error.
The Disgrace of Gijón
In the 2010 World Cup’s third round of group stage matches, FIFA scheduled the final games to occur simultaneously, a move designed to prevent match fixing. This change was inspired by a contentious game during the 1982 World Cup between Austria and West Germany, known as the “Nichtangriffspakt von Gijón” or the “Non-aggression pact of Gijón”. This match resulted in Algeria’s unfortunate exit from the tournament.
Previously, Algeria had made headlines by defeating West Germany, marking the first victory of an African nation over a European team in World Cup history. However, during the controversial match between the Teutonic neighbors, play seemed suspiciously passive after West Germany’s early goal. Both teams appeared content with the score, inciting outrage among fans and commentators, who suspected ulterior motives behind the lackluster performance. This incident prompted FIFA’s decision to change scheduling in future tournaments.
The Argentine Conspiracy (1978)
During the 1978 World Cup, suspicions arose that Peru deliberately lost to Argentina, aiding the hosts to advance at Brazil’s detriment. Argentina needed to win by four goals, a feat they achieved with a 6-0 score. Years after, former Peruvian Senator Genaro Ledesma revealed that this surprising result was pre-negotiated by the dictatorships of both countries.
He claimed that Argentina’s dictator, Jorge Videla, accepted 13 Peruvian political prisoners in exchange for a guaranteed loss by Peru, thereby enhancing Argentina’s global image through a World Cup victory. These allegations add depth to long-standing rumors about the match, from bribery to grain shipment promises. Reflecting years later, Argentine striker Leopoldo Luque admitted, “With what I know now, I can’t say I’m proud of my victory… We just played football.”
South Korea’s 2002 Odyssey
The 2002 World Cup saw South Korea, typically viewed as underdogs, outshine many favored teams, but it’s remembered as one of the most controversial tournaments in World Cup history.
The debates began when Japan and South Korea were chosen as joint hosts, a first in World Cup history. Organizing matches between the nations presented logistical issues. The differing time zones also posed challenges for European fans.
South Korea impressively topped Group D with victories over Poland and Portugal and a draw with the United States. Their success led to city-wide celebrations in Seoul, with 1.5 million people taking to the streets.
However, controversy loomed in the Round of 16 against Italy. Despite having football legends in their lineup, Italy struggled. South Korea’s Ahn Jung-hwan scored during extra time, but the match saw contentious decisions by referee Byron Moreno, including a wrongly disallowed Italian goal. After the match, FIFA announced an investigation into the refereeing.
The tensions didn’t ease as South Korea defeated Spain in the quarter-finals amid more controversial decisions. Nonetheless, they advanced to the semi-finals, losing to Germany by a single goal from Michael Ballack.
Back in South Korea, the team returned as national heroes, receiving exemptions from mandatory military service to focus on their football careers.
Hurst’s 1966 Goal
England’s Geoff Hurst’s goal in the 1966 final against West Germany remains a defining controversy. The ball hit the crossbar and landed near the goal line, leading to debates on its legitimacy. Modern tech suggests the ball didn’t fully cross the line, yet the goal stood. He is unwavering in his belief that it was a legitimate goal. After all, if the referee declared it as such, then by game standards, it stands.
English supporters undoubtedly concur. Yet, nearly everyone else globally remains skeptical.
To this day, many Germans feel their team was unfairly disadvantaged. The West German players immediately contested the decision. Initially, the Swiss referee seemed to lean their way. However, after consulting with the Azeri linesman, who admitted to being swayed by Hunt’s response, the goal was confirmed. Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov, who signaled the goal, later hinted at geopolitical reasons for his decision when he whispered “Stalingrad” on his deathbed.
The FIFA World Cup is undeniably one of the most prestigious football tournaments on the global stage, uniting nations in their shared passion for the sport. Yet, with such stakes at hand, the tournament has been no stranger to controversy, ranging from hosting rights to match outcomes. These contentious moments, whether it’s the debate surrounding Hurst’s 1966 goal or the allegations of match-fixing in 1978, add layers to the World Cup’s rich tapestry of history. They serve as reminders that beyond the goals, the World Cup also offers a panorama of human emotion, politics, and debates that resonate long after the final whistle.