Soccer moms can turn away now. The World Cup, a festival of color, skill, and of course some serious tension, is about to kick off in Brazil. Over the years, exponents of the beautiful game have brought joy to millions of fans around the world. But there have also been times when filthy foul play and cynical cheating were showcased to the same adoring public. Check out these five moments of infamy.
The Spitting Incident
There is no love lost between Holland and Germany on the soccer field. The two teams flat-out don’t like each other, and this 1990 World Cup clash between the nations (back then it was Holland vs. West Germany) was tense from the outset. Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler butted heads early and soon things got very, very messy. Check out this clip, which explains the background of the incident.
The Schumacher “Tackle”
In the 1982 World Cup, West Germany faced France in the semi-final. France’s playmaker Michelle Platini dinked a lovely ball over the top to give the onrushing Patrick Battiston a great chance to score. Germany’s goalkeeper Harald Schumacher advanced to close the angle and ended up taking the Frenchman out in particularly brutal fashion. This still remains one of the most vicious tackles ever seen in World Cup history. Battiston, who was taken off the field in a stretcher, was knocked unconscious and lost three teeth in the incident. To add insult to his significant injuries, the Frenchman shot wide and the referee deemed that no foul play had taken place. Yikes.
Leonardo was one of Brazil’s most elegant and skillful players in the 1990s. He had a great touch, could pass, and was known to score some outrageously great goals in his day. However, when it comes to the World Cup, he will be remembered for this 1994 incident, which took place in a group match against the host nation, USA. Leonardo took exception to the close attention of American midfielder Tab Ramos and lashed out with his left elbow. The referee brandished a red card and sent off the Brazilian, while Ramos lay on the ground writhing in pain from a fractured skull. FIFA threw the book at Leonardo, banning him for four games, and it took Ramos several months to recover from the injury.
De Jong’s Spinning Back Kick
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa pitted the much-fancied Spain against Holland in the final. Spain’s fast passing game made them the favorite and the team was expected to finally win their first Jules Rimet trophy. Holland’s players were no slouches themselves, and with the likes of Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Wesley Sneijder in the ranks, they too possessed skill aplenty. However, they decided that if they could not out-pass the Spanish, then they would out-muscle them. The Dutch wasted no opportunity to kick lumps out of their opponents in an effort to put them off their game. That strategy was typified most by Nigel De Jong, who must have left cleat marks in Xavi Alonso’s chest with this tackle. The dirty tactics did not pay off, though, as Iniesta scored a late goal to win the World Cup for the Spanish.
The Zidane Headbutt
Zinedine Zidane of France will go down as one of the greatest players to ever play soccer. He inspsired his team to win the 1998 World Cup, and played a hugely important role in his team making the final of the 2006 competition, which was held in Germany. It was France vs. Italy in the final, and it was a tight game. Late in the match, which was his last before retiring, Zidane took exception to an insult hurled at him by Italian defender Marco Materazzi. The clip below shows what happened next. This was Zidane’s last act as a professional soccer player. Italy would go on to win the game 5–3 on penalty kicks.