FIFA World Cup biggest controversies

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Held once every four years, the FIFA World Cup is filled with interesting storylines as well as its share of controversies.

Reading through the long history of the international competition, there are a number of bumps in the road that give the World Cup its allure.

While most have been positive, there have been negative publicity that have caught the eye of the media.

Most recently, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui was sacked from duty a day before the FIFA World Cup in Russia as his acceptance of the job with Real Madrid was seen as “betrayal” by the Spanish Football Federation.

This news comes to a shock to most fans and we look at where this rates among the biggest controversies in World Cup history.


In 1998, Brazil were dominating the World Cup and were defending their crown against host nation France in the final.

Ahead of the penultimate clash between the nations, the starting XI list was given and it had a glaring omission in the Brazilian squad.

Ronaldo, their talented number 9, was not part of the team’s starting XI much to the surprise of everyone who had a vested interest in the game.

The Brazilian was far and away the team’s best striker and seeing him off the list was surreal and questionable to say the least.

There would be much confusion but it would eventually settle as a new list was given out with Ronaldo included in the line-up.

Brazil would eventually lose the contest, with Ronaldo having a poor game resulting in many building conspiracy theories for the incident. However, the strongest news to come out is that the Brazilian suffered a type of seizure before the game leading up to him being pulled out of the starting XI.


France is found to be on the list for a second time, this time in the 2006 World Cup and Zinedine Zidane takes center stage.

In the final against Italy, the Frenchmen were defending their crown and many believed that Zidane’s Swan Song would end up as another victory in the grandest stage of international football.

Already 34 years old, Zidane was playing at such a high level, winning the tournament’s Golden Boot. Unfortunately, he was to be remembered for his brutal headbutt on Italy’s Marco Materazzi.

Naturally, Zidane picked up a straight red card but would win fans’ adoration as it was later revealed that Materazzi made snide remarks about Zidane’s sister.

Unfortunately for the French squad, this happened in extra time of the second half and without Zidane, they lost via penalties to Italy.

It was such an iconic event that a statue was made in 2012.


The most recent controversy is good enough to land third on the list considering the timing of the event.

Spanish FA president Luis Rubiales was reportedly upset over Lopetegui’s acceptance of the vacant Real Madrid managerial job and proceeded to fire the coach with the World Cup only 24 hours away.

This casts a big shadow over the Spanish team’s quest for glory as they were considered big favourites to win the competition. Now without a coach that helped them go unbeaten in 20 games since taking over after the European Championship in 2016.

Spain are set to open their World Cup campaign against a tough Portugal team and they are yet to find a successor to fill in on such short notice.

If Spain end up with a repeat of their 2014 World Cup performance, this moment would undoubtedly be the biggest reason for their drop in the competition.


Considered by most as one of the most controversial goals of all time, the 1986 World Cup will forever be linked with the quarterfinal match-up between Argentina and England.

The match was tied after the half but soon after the restart, Diego Maradona scored an unbelievable goal that changed history for both teams.

It was unbelievable as it should not have counted as Maradona handled the ball past the English keeper Peter Shilton.

The play unfolded with Maradona playing a 1-2 with his teammate and with Maradona in the box, he proceeded to jump up in the air and punch the ball towards to goal to gain the lead.

Everyone appeared to have seen the infraction except the referee and linesmen who let the game continue.

In an interview after their 2-1 victory, Maradona claimed to have used his head to score, with a little help from the hand of God.


Considered one of the worst controversies in entire football, the event did not happen in 1994 World Cup, but the incident was a result of the competition.

Andres Escobar was known as the penultimate professional and was representing Colombia in the World Cup.

In the group stages, they found themselves going up against the United States when Escobar’s mistimed tackle led to the ball being scored on his own goal and it would prove to be important as the Colombians lost 2-1 to the hosts.

With the team already out of the competition, Escobar was back in his home country only to be gunned down a few days later. Six shots took the life of Escobar in an act that would be described as revenge for his error in the World Cup.

The suspect was eventually sentenced to jail for 43 years, only to be released in 11 due to good behaviour.

This is definitely one of the worst news to ever come out from one of the best sporting competitions in the world.