Saying that referees always make the right call is like saying that England have a history of burying clutch penalty kicks: It’s just not the case.
Like any sport, there is always going to be a hint of gray blurring the lines of right and wrong.
Unfortunately for the men in the middle, fans’ tempers seem to reach new peaks every four years when national pride is on the line at the World Cup. Every call is scrutinized, every call is dissected, every call bears with it the fate of a country captivated by the drama. And while FIFA does its homework by handpicking officials it feels are best suited for the World Cup, even those most capable seem inept to the millions of people refereeing from their living room couch.
Let’s be honest for a moment: Refereeing a perfect game is not easy. It may be impossible, especially one in a World Cup where tension levels leave heads buzzing more than the cacophony of vuvuzelas stemming from the crowd. Inevitably, there are bound to be some sort of (not so) respectful disputes.
Nevertheless, somebody has to do it. With that in mind, we highlight three of the most controversial World Cup calls.
1. Geoff Hurst’s “Wembley Goal,” 1966 final.
And to think, some fans are under the impression that appeals for instant replay is a new issue.
Granted, there wasn’t the technology 45 years ago to even have the argument for or against it, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been useful.
Eleven minutes into stoppage time of a 2-2 match between England and West Germany, English forward Geoff Hurst struck a ball off the underside of the crossbar. The rebound came down apparently on or just over the line, and was cleared.
Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst consulted with his assitant, Tofik Bakhramov of the former USSR, and decided that the ball did, indeed, fully cross the goal line.
After an all-out West German attack left their back line vulnerable, England went on to add another goal in the dying seconds to secure their first and only World Cup title. The validity of the “goal” is still in question today.
2. Nigel de Jong’s yellow card, 2010 final
If someone with no soccer knowledge were to ask what a red card offense looked like, de Jong’s karate-kick tackle on Spain’s Xabi Alonso might be the best place to start.
The Dutch midfielder leapt through the air, studs up, and pulled his best ninja impression as he left boot marks in Alonso’s chest. Match official Howard Webb, however — one of the most respected referees in the world — incomprehensibly left his hand out of his back pocket and only issued de Jong a caution.
Alonso would get the (probably painful) last laugh though, as his Spanish side took down the Netherlands 1-0 in extra time for their first World Cup title.
3. Edu’s disallowed goal, 2010 group stage
It should have been a comeback win for the record books. Instead, a 2-2 draw with Slovenia laid the groundwork for one of the most dramatic World Cup group stages in US history.
After falling behind 2-0, the Americans rallied back in the second half and equalized on a Michael Bradley half-volley in the 81st minute. Minutes later, Landon Donovan sent a free kick into the box and found the foot of Maurice Edu, who one-timed it into the back of the net. The Americans seemed to have stolen the game from Slovenia.
However, it was the United States who felt like they had been robbed. Referee Koman Coulibaly of Mali, who was officiating his first World Cup match, disallowed the go-ahead goal. It was a head-scratching decision, and the reasoning behind the phantom call still hasn't been stated.
Nonetheless, it produced a happy, Hollywood ending for the US in the group stage. The Yanks were forced to go for the win over Algeria in the final group match to advance, and in what will go down as one of the greatest goals in US history, Donovan connected in the 90th minute to book the United States’ ticket to the knockout stages as Group C champions.