Worst World Cup Referee Decisions

Croatia have a right to feel aggrieved after last night’s loss to Brazil, with Croat boss Niko Kovac slamming the controversial penalty decision as “ridiculous”.

To claim the Japanese official, Yuichi Nishimura, favoured the Brazilians would be an understatement, with several big decisions going the hosts way. But then poor refereeing decisions are as inevitable at a World Cup finals as a pre-tournament Cameroonian row over bonuses. Here’s a look at some of the worst of them, not including the obvious “Hand of God” and 1966 “Ghost Goal”:

Graham Poll/Josep Simunic
As a kid, I once got the signature of former Blackburn Rovers keeper Bobby Mimms twice in my autograph book by mistake. I tried to scribble the second one out but it was no good – I knew it was there, somehow degrading the presence of its fellow unique signatures. So imagine how Graham Poll felt in 2006 when he booked the same Croatian player, Josip Simunic, three times before sending him off. Perhaps the English official was subliminally affected by Simunic’s shirt number – 3.

South Korea 2002
Croatia may be calling foul on the preferential treatment given to Brazil last night, but the 2002 tournament took the biscuit for hosts being given partisan assistance. Co-hosts South Korea’s run to the semi-finals was akin to a nuclear strike on their capital for opponents – totally Seoul-destroying. Portugal were the first to feel aggrieved, eliminated after losing a contentious group match 1:0. In the second round Italy were denied a host of blatant fouls before Korea snatched a late equaliser to bring the game into extra-time. There was to be only one winner. Rather than award a stonewall penalty, referee Byron Moreno deemed it poetic justice that Francesco Totti deserved a red card for diving. After a subsequent disallowed goal for the Azzurri, Korea progressed with a golden goal leading to claims of “robbery” from the Italians – no strangers to dubious match-fixing themselves as the intervening years would attest. Their next opponents, Spain, had a right old laugh at Italy’s moaning until they too were become undone by a series of refereeing blunders.

Voller & Italia ’90
Italia 90 has often been heralded as the birth of the “new fan”, as a pulsating (yet rather dour) tournament replaced middle class associations of hooliganism in the sport with images of Gazza weeping and operatic theme songs. However, it also introduced the art of diving to the game with the final itself spoiled by some theatrics in the box. Germany were the neutral’s favourites in the final after their opponents, Argentina, had dumped the much-admired hosts out in the semi-final. Argie Pedro Monzon had already become the first man to be sent-off in a final after a clear dive by Jurgen Klinsman before a dull showpiece was decided by an Andreas Brehme penalty, after German striker Rudi Voller had gone down rather softly in the penalty box.

Rivaldo 2002
Brazil cheating their way to a World Cup win? Never! Well, apart from 2002. Many players such as Eric Cantona and Vinnie Jones have taken to acting once their playing careers ended but Rivaldo’s performance during a group match with Turkey truly outshone any fellow footballer’s thespian accomplishments. Turkish defender Hakan Unsal played the ball to the Brazilian number ten, standing right next to the linesman, in order for him to take a corner. The ball hit Rivaldo in the midriff yet he promptly fell to the floor in “agony” clutching his face. The referee, clearly not knowing his arse from his elbow or, indeed his stomach from his face, showed no hesitation in sending the Turk off. Brazil won the tie 2:1 with Rivaldo bagging the winner.