The history of the game would have been very different if these verdicts were reversed.
“To err is human”, goes the saying. The same applies to football, where we occasionally see referees make wrong judgments that may or may not change the course of a game. While most of such errors are forgiven by fans soon after, some refereeing howlers have stood the test of time – with people still remembering them on a daily basis.
From Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal to Josip Simunic’s three yellow cards in a single game, football has seen a lot of outrageous refereeing to date. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the top 10 refereeing decisions that shocked the world:
10. Josip Simunic receives three bookings in a single game, FIFA World Cup 2006
Prior to the start of the Croatia’s match against Australia in the FIFA World Cup 2006, Englishman Graham Poll was tipped to become the chief referee for the tournament’s final. However, within another 90 minutes, Poll ruined all possible chances of being handed the whistle for the all-important game, with an outrageous error.
Poll managed to show three yellow cards to Croatian defender Josip Simunic, resulting in the referee being forced to pack his bags early and return home from the tournament.
9. Roy Carroll’s fumble goes unnoticed, Premier League 2004-05
On January 4, 2005, Tottenham Hotspur played out a 0-0 draw with Manchester United at Old Trafford. The most important moment of the game came when Spurs’ Pedro Mendes produced an effort from the halfway line, which was fumbled by an out-of-position United shot-stopper Roy Carroll, who only pushed the ball out after it went over the line.
It was clearly a goal, but both the referee and the linesman failed to see it. As a result, the goal was not given and the North Londoners lost out on a valuable win and three points that night.
8. Germany’s Harald Schumacher’s life-threatening foul on France’s Patrick Battiston gets no attention, FIFA World Cup 1982
Germany’s Harald Schumacher is one of the finest stars to have played for the country, having won the European Championships in 1980 and reaching the finals of the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. However, the goalkeeper will always be most associated with one particular moment of brutality – his foul on France’s Patrick Battiston that almost killed him, during the ’82 World Cup semi-final.
Both teams were tied 1-1 when France had an opportunity to go in front through Battiston. The defender had a clear shot on goal, but Schumacher rushed to close him down and in doing so, launched himself into the path of the Frenchman with a force that literally took the breath out of the latter.
Battiston lay unconscious on the pitch for seven minutes, and also broke two teeth, three ribs and several vertebrae following the collision. Despite all of this, referee Charles Corver was unmoved. He whistled for a goal-kick and produced neither yellow nor red for Schumacher, who eventually went on to save two spot-kicks in the shootout to knock France out of the competition after the scoresheet read 3-3 at the end of regulation time.
The then German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt had to write a letter to the then French president Francois Mitterand, in an attempt to defuse resultant tensions between the two nations. “Our hearts go out to the French who deserved to go through just as much as the Germans,” the letter read.
7. Kieran Gibbs handed red card instead of teammate Oxlade-Chamberlain, Premier League 2013-14
Chelsea were already leading 2-0 against Arsenal in a meeting between the two sides on March 22, 2014, when things got worse for the Gunners when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain saved Eden Hazard’s shot with his hand to concede a penalty.
Understandably, referee Andre Marriner produced a red card – but astonishingly awarded it to Kieran Gibbs instead, despite Oxlade-Chamberlain admitting his guilt. Marriner stood by his decision and Gibbs had to take an early exit – and it was not until after the game that he apologized to the player, Arsenal’s then-manager Arsene Wenger and the Football Association (FA).
The match was Wenger’s 1000th game in charge of the north London club, and it ended in a 6-0 defeat against the Blues.
6. Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland, 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers
With a FIFA World Cup spot on the line for the victor of the clash between France and Ireland, both teams fought really hard and took the extra-time, before Les Bleus won the game late on in controversial fashion.
Former Barcelona and Arsenal superstar Thierry Henry deliberately used his hands to control the ball in the Irish penalty box, before setting up William Gallas to score the winner. Henry’s handball went unnoticed and as a result, the goal was not ruled out despite massive protests from the Ireland players and fans.
Shortly after, France confirmed their place in the premium competition to be held in South Africa while Ireland returned home, their hearts broken by the unfortunate mistake.
5. Favoritism for South Korea, FIFA World Cup 2002
South Korea will not forget the 2002 World Cup anytime soon – not only did they play hosts to the tournament, but they also shocked everyone by reaching the semi-finals for the first and only time till date. Rather unsurprisingly, quite many refereeing gaffes played a role in the Koreans’ run up to the last four, as they found themselves at the favourable end of referee Byron Moreno’s refereeing decisions in the second-round clash against Italy, and referee Gamal Al-Ghandour’s decisions in the quarter-final clash against Spain.
First came an unjust red card for Italy’s Francesco Totti in the pre-quarters. Totti received his second yellow of the game after going down under a challenge from Song Chong-gug in the box. Moreno deemed the striker to have dived, which is why he sent him off. Moments later, Damiano Tommasi was flagged for offside when clean through on goal. Again, replays showed that this had been a bad decision, and eventually South Korea won 2-1.
In the quarter-finals, it was Spain’s turn to be left bemused, after Al-Ghandour ruled out two Spanish goals in regulation time. South Korea eventually won on penalties to set up a semi-final encounter against Germany.
4. Nigeria’s Victor Ikpeba’s shootout goal denied, 2000 Africa Cup of Nations final
Having won their most recent AFCON trophy in 1994, Nigeria were supposed to end a six-year hiatus in 2000 as they played brilliantly throughout the 2000 edition of the tournament to reach the finals once again. But they were denied glory by a poor decision over whether the ball had crossed the line after hitting the crossbar, in the final penalty shoot-out no less.
Victor Ikpeba’s spot-kick in the shoot-out clearly went in, but referee Mourad Daami didn’t think so, and his poor refereeing cost the host nation the cup as Cameroon triumphed 4-3. Nigeria would win their next AFCON gold only thirteen more years later, in 2013.
3. Chelsea’s undeserving exit from the UEFA Champions League, 2008-09
Norwegian official Tom Henning Ovrebo denied Chelsea a place in the Champions League final in 2009, after ignoring four separate penalty appeals against Barcelona in the second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Barca legend Andres Iniesta then struck late on to condemn the Blues to a painful exit, and that sparked Didier Drogba’s famous reaction as you can see below. The Blaugranas also went on to win the final against Manchester United, thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi.
It can’t have been much solace to fans of the London-based club, but Ovrebo did at least admit the refereeing was wrong a decade later. “It was not my best day really,” he told Marca last year. “Some days you are not at the level you should be. I can’t be proud of that performance.”
2. Frank Lampard’s goal Vs Germany not given, FIFA World Cup 2010
With Germany leading 2-1 at one stage during their 2010 World Cup pre-quarterfinals against England, midfielder Frank Lampard produced a stunning effort that came down off the bar and over the line before bouncing out.
It should have been a goal in England’s favour, but the linesman ruled it out after he judged it not to have gone over the line. Replays showed clear space between the line and the ball inside the net, making it one of the most outrageous refereeing decisions of all time. Germany went on to win 4-1 and eventually finished third in the competition, implying that Lampard’s goal – had it stood – would have produced a much better result for the Three Lions.
1. The “Hand of God”, FIFA World Cup 1986
Diego Maradona’s handball-goal for Argentina, which paved the way for England’s exit from the FIFA World Cup 1986 in the quarter-finals’ stage, is the most infamous refereeing mistake of all time.
While the game was still tied at 0-0 six minutes into the second half of the game, English defender Steve Hodge cleared the ball towards their own post, for goalkeeper Peter Shilton to do the rest. But Maradona had other plans, as he jumped with his left arm outstretched and knocked the ball into England’s goal with his fist before Shilton could catch it.
He then nervously began to celebrate while glancing sideways at the referee Ali Bin Nasser and the linesman, who proceeded to allow the goal. Bin Nasser later blamed a hemorrhoid treatment for affecting his sight and causing him to miss it.