The 25 Biggest World Cup Scandals Of All Time



The mystical aura of the great scandals

Die Hand Gottes. Foto: Getty Images
Die Hand Gottes. Foto: Getty Images

These are moments that have been memorized in our memory. Inseparable. We think of them when we even hear “Football World Cup”. They belong to our football socialization and have partly found their way into everyday language.

The most beautiful goals or the boundless rejoicing after winning the title are even more important than scandals and unbelievable events in our collective memories of a football World Cup. Why is it like this? Because every scandal is also surrounded by a mystical aura. It is these stories from the grey zone that are especially fascinating and often transfigured like legends with dazzling player personalities or one-hit wonders among the World Cup players.

These stories are carried by the incredible media significance of a football World Cup. No scandal without press coverage. One of the greatest players of all time has even twice managed to be entered in the World Cup Black Book.

The great players and those who were only thought to shape a World Cup have been living off this double pass with the media for decades. Any Press is good Press, they say. The danger is that the scandals of the big players have in many cases reduced their world careers to a single scene, a blackout, a foul and to an unprofessional action. Of course, that doesn't do justice to their footballing significance and their entire works but that's how the sport is and that's how people are.

Almost every big player is surrounded by a scandal

Ronaldo auf dem Höhepunkt. Foto: Getty Images
Ronaldo auf dem Höhepunkt. Foto: Getty Images

But the scandals that surround the greatest World Cup players of all time like a legend are not exclusive. Football is a team sport and when it comes to the huge pressure situations experienced at many World Cup tournaments, where not only a few hot-heads blow the fuses but also overburdened referees are in action, it quickly becomes scandalous. 

Goal fraud, as well as hair-raising mistakes, are often speculated, but rarely proven corruption around World Cup matches. Before a World Cup, the teams sit together for up to eight weeks in training camps and team hotels. Camp fever is rampant. A scandal in German World Cup history that is rarely mentioned but no less ugly is played out in 1978 in the quarters of the DFB in Argentina. Football and Politics are always difficult constellations that also created bizarre moments during the World Cup. And that already in the childhood days of today's largest sporting event in the world alongside the Olympics in 1934 and 1938. A dictator uses the World Cup in his own country and corrupts the course of the tournament. We are left speechless with events that make us angry and leave us helpless. This was also the case in the 1970s, during this politically turbulent decade in South America. Over the past 40 years, dozens of authors have been trying to come to terms with what happened at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Several unveiling books are documenting the World Cup at which the world was a guest of criminals. Argentina 78 was a surreal world championship where all the bad details will probably never come to light.

How did this happen? – Just one of many questions the fan is often left alone with. FIFA's decisions seem hardly comprehensible in the age of football leaks, redemption insanity, and exit clauses. You often have the feeling that they have to be pushed through against all odds, especially during a World Cup. Or have you ever wondered how a fan vote on the disgraced Diego Armando Maradona would have turned out at the 1994 World Cup? Even a scandal at a World Cup that hasn't even been played is perfect and can be found in the chronicle. The environment of the World Cup as well as the dubious award procedures, which almost smell of collusion and bribery which take place and the host countries with a dubious understanding of democracy leave the fans more and more disgusted. Confidence in football and in the organizations organizing it is dwindling.

Because a World Championship is insane. Every country is struggling to be part of it and this is more the case than at any continental championship. Therefore, in qualifying, the favorites who stay on the track are always the first losers. This is true for a hot-blooded football nation that would have loved to be “invited to Germany” in 2006 only to be condemned to watch. Before the first World Cup in Germany, the first European Champion of 1960 had no desire for FIFA's power games. He took a premature end in the qualifiers knowing full well to save his face. After all, football is not always everything. Here are 25 scandals around the World Cup that kept players, fans and the media on their toes and are still doing so today. Moments that will forever be inseparable from the world's biggest football tournament.


Scandal 25 - 22: From the horror night in Istanbul to the visit of the autocrat

25th Scandal: Horror on the Bosporus

Jubel über den Sieg der Schweiz; Foto: Imago
Jubel über den Sieg der Schweiz; Foto: Imago

The announcement of Senol Günes (50) is full-bodied. Many observers say she was arrogant by the years. “Here we are guests, in 2006 you are invited,” the national coach of Turkey explains after the quarter-final victory against Senegal (1-0 after defeat) on June 22, 2002, in Osaka, Japan. With the “Home World Cup”, Günes means the 2006 tournament in Germany, where there is one of the largest Turkish communities outside the country on the Bosporus. But this invitation is unlikely to be received. However, the Turkish team is losing its nerve on the home straight.

The posters, which will be presented to the opponent from Switzerland upon arrival in Istanbul on November 15, 2005, promise nothing good. “Welcome to Hell” can be read. “Huren Son Frei”, it says on a different note. It targets the Swiss striker Alexander Frei of Stade Rennes. The attacker, who will be a cult player at Borussia Dortmund from 2006, has presented Valon Behrami with his second Swiss goal in the first leg 2-0 – and given the “Nati” a top starting position for the return leg in Istanbul.

Köbi Kuhn's team also needs this two-goal advantage. The reception of the Swiss in Turkey is anything but sporting. Even the airport employees testified to the Swiss full of hate songs when they arrive. On the way to the stadium, the Swiss team bus is thrown with stones and eggs. Simply ugly. Therefore, the Swiss national anthem is lost in the whistling concert of 46,000 hot-blooded fans.

In this hateful atmosphere, the Turks seem free to pull the plug after just two minutes. He scores the 0:1. Turkey already needs four goals to invite them to Germany, because the playoffs for the World Cup are played in the European Cup mode, with both the first and second legs.

Turkey's desperate race to catch up against Switzerland

Die Türkei scheidet aus; Foto: Getty Images
Die Türkei scheidet aus; Foto: Getty Images
Tuncay Sanli turns the game around to 2-1 for Turkey in the middle of the first half – now the 2002 World Cup bronze medallist is only two goals short. A foul penalty from Necati Ates (52nd) turns the Sükrü Saracoglu Stadium in Kadiköy on the Asian side of the Turkish metropolis into a witch's cauldron. 

In this atmosphere, Marco Streller, who is storming for VfB Stuttgart keeps a cool head in the 84th minute when he storms: his 3:2 is the preliminary decision. Sanli's third goal to 4:2 (88th) comes too late because Turkey is not going to Germany for the World Cup. What happens at the final whistle goes down in history as “The Night of the Shame of Istanbul” (BILD). This made Turkish players hunt down the Swiss because Özalan Alpay joins Marco Streller while Benjamin Huggel joins the Turkish assistant coach. “It was hell,” stuttered Dortmund's Swiss national player Philipp Degen, “I've never seen anything so brutal before.” Streller: “Alpay has kicked Benjamin Huggel with his feet. He has thrashed into it as if in bloodlust.”

Swiss international Raphael Wicky of Hamburger SV hears a loud voice shortly after the final whistle of Belgian referee Frank De Bleekere. “Run in, stay with me!” – This is Hamit Altintop, born in Gelsenkirchen. Wicky doesn't think twice. He just runs off and saves himself from the anger of the Turkish fans. The next shock for Wicky and Co. in the cabin aisle: “Unbelievable what happened in the cabin aisle”, Wicky tells in BILD Hamburg that ” everywhere there were fights, stewards, players, delegates beat each other up. What shocked me the most was how the Turkish players beat each other.”

The Swiss have to wait two hours behind closed cabin doors and fear. There is no question of an orderly departure. They still taste the beer and champagne they brought with them. “It's great that we're here for the World Cup,” Wicky is pleased to say, “for me and others a childhood dream has come true. Halil Altintop from FC Kaiserslautern is disappointed: “It's embarrassing to know that the whole world is talking about us. We just can't lose.” That's probably true. And for the “Home World Cup” in Germany 2006 applies to Turkey: You won't get in here!


24th Scandal: Maradona Out of Control

Mardaona spielte richtig gut bei der WM 1994; Foto: Getty Images

It is not a good idea of Diego Armando Maradona to make the 1994 World Championship his show stage once again. At his fourth and final World Cup finals, the Argentinian, who is similarly revered to ‘God' in his South American homeland, becomes the most prominent doping victim in tournament history and reveals an incredible trick.

“Marado, Marado”, it sounds through the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires on September 5, 1993. In the famous final stadium of 1978, Argentina lost 5-0 to Colombia in the South American qualification for the World Cup in the USA. The soul of the people is boiling, the fans of the “Albiceleste” are demanding the greatest of Diego Armando Maradona. Only he, it seems this autumn, can lead Argentina to the World Cup. But Maradona has gone underground. It has been for more than two years. On March 17, 1991, the superstar of the SSC Naples, who owes his renaissance to Maradona in the late eighties was tested positive for cocaine and sentenced to 14 months on probation. The Argentine Football Association also suspended him for 15 months and ordered his withdrawal.1993 and after successfully qualifying for the tournament in the USA, he actually returned to the national team.

Maradona has hardly changed his appearance, is quarrelsome and extroverted. Maradona has scarcely been on US soil when he has gathered the media around him and is rumbling against FIFA and its General Secretary Joseph Blatter. He disagrees with the weather and insults the TV stations as the “new bosses of football”. He owes the fact that he is competitive again to a private coach as well as the Canadian athlete Ben Johnson.

In 1988, the sprinter was demonstrably doped in the 100-meter final of the Olympic Games in Seoul and is Maradona's new running training partner. Maradona, the aging world star now 33, has had another good season at FC Sevilla in Spain. So why not a good World Championship? The doubts seem to have vanished quickly.

Next to "Batigol": Maradona seems to have fallen out of time.

Ein unrühmliches Ende für Maradona; Foto: Getty Images
Ein unrühmliches Ende für Maradona; Foto: Getty Images

On June 21, 1994, the football world sees the “new” Maradona. He plays next to one of his Argentinean sorcerer apprentices, the long-maned Gabriel “Batigol” Batistuta. Maradona should actually have noticed that professional football is no longer for him at the side of the unstoppable triple goal scorer Batistuta, who comes from a different kicker generation.

But: Diego is once again quite the old man against the outsider Greece. It's as if he were once again rising from the mists surrounding his faded fame. Maradona chases a left-footed shot from 16 meters into the box of the Greek goalkeeper Antonius Minou and completely turns around. Diego runs jubilantly and roars towards the TV camera. Look here, I'm back!

However, as it is with the intoxication. It is intense and quickly over. In Maradona's case four days later. After the 2:1 against the World Cup newcomer Nigeria, Maradona is asked in Boston after the game directly for doping control. The faces of the FIFA doping experts quickly darken. Maradona has been tested positive for five (!) prohibited substances. The scandal report goes through the news tickers in the evening.

His conviction was made possible because Maradona, who was led to a doping test by a nurse, no longer has time to use his tried and tested trick. He has been fooling the doping commissions for years. According to announced doping tests, he carries a plastic penis and urine with him. This time, the deception maneuver goes wrong. “Diego Maradona is excluded from all football activities,” his arch-enemy Blatter explains shortly afterward. This is the end of Maradona's World Cup career.

23rd Scandal: "Yes" to the Goal-Line Technology

Ein eindeutiges Tor für England; Foto: Getty Images
Ein eindeutiges Tor für England; Foto: Getty Images

The “Goal of Bloemfontein ” in the World Cup round of sixteen on June 27, 2010, is a milestone in the German-English football rivalry. 44 years after Wembley, the imaginary football god is rebounding the ball this time in favor of the Germans.

Manuel Neuer is the quickest to recognize the situation. In his mind, the German national goalkeeper grabs the ball that has bounced back from the crossbar, picks it up and throws it back to the front. As if nothing had happened. Was there anything? Yes, there was something. Manuel Neuer certainly saw that the ball was a good half a meter behind the goal line and that the GIF pictures appearing on the social networks would then be a gag with a kink. But: He just won't let on, stays cool and perhaps saves the German team's progress. Frank “Lamps” Lampard's 44-year-old Wembley memorial goal from a good 17 meters would be England's 2-2 win over Germany in the World Cup round of 16 in the 38th minute of the free state game in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Further ahead, English players Wayne Rooney and Lampard besiege Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda. They can't believe it.

Franz Beckenbauer, who witnessed the legendary Wembley goal in the 1966 World Cup finals against the English (2:4 after defeat) and is now an expert on pay-TV channel Sky has a clear view: “It couldn't be clearer. It's almost half a meter, the linesman should have seen that.” Wayne Rooney, the brawny striker of Manchester United, son of a boxer from the Croxteth district of Liverpool, shows it to assistant Mauricio Espinosa once again with a figurative and threatening look. “Here, ‘sooo far' was the ball behind the line!” The linesman stands 37 meters away, but he has a clear view.

“We scored 2-2,” England's Italian national coach Fabio Capello is annoyed, “it's unbelievable that there aren't so many referees scoring this goal during this time. The game would have been very different.” Possibly. The “Three Lions” are in this phase after the German goals of Miroslav Klose (20) and Lukas Podolski (32). Neuer first holds against Lampard (35), then Matthew Upson heads for England after a cross from Steven Gerrard to 2:1 (37)

It is the hour of comedians but also of revanchists

Good bye England; Foto: Getty Images
Only one minute follows the scene that makes history as “Wembley reloaded”. After the Savory-free kick by Lampard (52nd) breaks the English resistance. Thomas Müller (67th/81st) shoots Germany into the quarter-finals against Argentina with two clean counter goals.

It is the hour of the comedians but also of the revanchists. Especially the tabloid BILD, England in eternal disdain is growing up. “Thank you, football god” is the awkward title line on June 28, 2010, that any second-rate English teacher would tear to pieces.

The paper almost drips with satisfaction for the “Wembley hit by Geoffrey Hurst 44 years ago”, which of course should not be missing as a black-and-white photo and comparison pictures. “Thank you, football god, you took a lot of time to make up for the injustice,” it almost sounds like a prayer, “we didn't believe in it anymore. Since yesterday Wembley has made up for it.”

You would have taken it a bit smaller. After all, the Germans had given Wembley back to the English twice and three times long before. In 1996 they eliminated the English hosts in the penalty kick thriller in the semi-finals, six years earlier at the World Cup in Italy also in the round of the last four. Similarly after a penalty thriller. And then, there's the unforgettable 3-1 win at England's football temple on the way to the EURO 1972. No, Wembley has been through for a long time. But, who always counts?

22nd Scandal: The visit of the President

Das Treffen Özil, Gündogan, Erdogan führte zu heftigen Reaktionen; Foto: Imago
Das Treffen Özil, Gündogan, Erdogan führte zu heftigen Reaktionen; Foto: Imago

The 2018 World Cup has not yet kicked off and there is a political scandal in the camp of the defending champion from Germany. Three weeks before the kick-off of the World Cup, the German national players Ilkay Gündogan and Mesut Özil visit the despotic Turkish ruler Recep Tayyip Erdogan and dedicate their jerseys from FC Arsenal and Manchester City to him with “for my president, respectfully”.

Leverkusen has no sympathy for such homages. On June 9, 2018, the German national team wants to say goodbye to the 67th in the FIFA World Ranking from Saudi Arabia (2:1), who also participated in the World Cup against Russia. According to team manager Oliver Bierhoff (50), the Federal Foreign Office advised the DFB to play the friendly match against the authoritarian Gulf state. Soothing. It's not that we end up opening a discussion about the interpretation of human rights in the Kingdom…

When national coach Joachim Löw (58) replaces Ilkay Gündogan for Marco Reus from Dortmund at the beginning of the second half, the BayArena is in an unexpected mood and the fans are ruthlessly whistling out the professional from the English champion Manchester City. Gündogan has not forgotten that he had himself photographed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the middle of the election campaign. His “accomplice”, Mesut Özil of FC Arsenal is meanwhile squashing on the reserve bench. The midfielder had knee-deflected for the title defender's last test match and had caused a lack of understanding. The fact that co-trainer Thomas Schneider is trying to calm the fans is a nice attempt. But they still blow the whistle on Gündogan. Oliver Bierhoff is already annoyed before the game. “You don't finish it after all. You bring it back every day because you don't have any themes,” he poisons ARD presenter and former national player Thomas Hitzlsperger, who works as an expert, before the kick-off whistle in Leverkusen. Basta politics instead of causal research. “The fact that a national player is so booed doesn't help anyone, it only hits the team,” Löw is also piqued afterward. But most supporters have enough. They don't want to be patronized. The mood on the mission “Best NeVer rest”, the fifth World Cup title for Germany, is already depressed before the tournament starts.

Gündogan and Özil had already pulled off the ill-considered stirrer three weeks earlier. On May 13, 2018, they will meet at Erdogan in London. The fact that Gündogan declares meekly after his visit to “his president” that it was “not a political statement” is no longer taken away from him. How else is a visit to the despot from Ankara to be judged? Özil, on the other hand, is silent. He is missing from the DFB team's traditional Media Day at the training camp in Eppan in South Tyrol. Never before had a national player stayed away from this compulsory date. Hitzlsperger as a professional on the island has seen through the little game, especially with Mesut Özil from London, who is shining with his absence: “Whenever things get dicey, he delegates the responsibility to his team of advisors. They helped him grow as a brand. But he' s not in a position to react when things get unpleasant. He's been around a lot and has experienced a lot, but his personality development hasn't kept pace.”

"Guys, are you crazy?"

Recep Erdogan und Angela Merkel; Foto: Getty Images
Recep Erdogan und Angela Merkel; Foto: Getty Images
Both Gündogan and Özil were born in Gelsenkirchen and have only German citizenship and a visit to “their president” becomes a state affair. First, DFB President Reinhard Grindel invites the bad boys on the fringes of the cup final with Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Bayern Munich (3:1) to the Schloss Bellevue in Berlin for a report on May 19. Then Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will join in.

In an interview with ARD and ZDF, Gündogan acknowledged the “German values”. Neither he nor Özil, however, has made a critical statement about Erdogan who is even pilloried by the United Nations for his human rights violations. “To be honest, it also made me a little perplexed”, says the experienced politician in an interview with ZEIT, “in view of the fact that Özil and Gündogan grew up in Germany, they should not have been surprised that their meeting with the Turkish President triggered criticism”. One could have imagined that somehow beforehand…

Two football millionaires of Turkish descent who decided in favor of German citizenship at the beginning of their careers because of their better earnings prospects can be photographed in the Turkish foreign election campaign with the Turkish dictator Erdogan – one would just like to ask: “Guys, who stepped in front of your bowl?”Democracy must also endure stupidity,” the Swabian-newspaper notes, “Özil and Gündogan have done themselves and all the other dual citizens in Germany who are actually very well integrated a disservice by providing Erdogan with the most insensitive election campaign aid possible. On the day before the nomination for the World Cup, an integration debate that has been unmasking the national team for years as unnecessary is boiling up again”.

The criticism does not only come from Germany. Meeting and paying homage to Erdogan, who is extremely controversial in the Western world but is also badly received in Austria. On the day before the nomination for the World Cup, an integration debate that has been unmasking the national team for years as unnecessary is boiling up again”.

The criticism does not only come from Germany. Meeting and paying homage to Erdogan, who is extremely controversial in the Western world, is also badly received in Austria. At the penultimate match in Klagenfurt at the beginning of June (2:1), the Austrian fans Özil and Gündogan also blow the whistle during the entire season. The ex-Dortmund Gündogan has a simple but not very coherent explanation for this fan behavior: “Who wants to whistle is free in his decision. Everybody can do what he wants.” Of course, the impression is obviously certain.




LIgalivenet Premium-Services


Dossiers for lover and hater. Triumphs, tragedies, embarrassments, victories of all Bundesliga clubs.


Ligalive Daily – the day-to-day newsletter by Ligalivenet. Delivered by 6.00 a.m. to your inbox. Getting smarter in five minutes.


Akte FC Bayern. The Bayern Munich Files. The rise of the average. From local hero to world-class.


The 25 Biggest World Cup Scandals Of All Time

Next >
Last Page