A look at ‘Hand of God’ and other controversial World Cup calls

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A controversial call may have spoiled Thursday’s World Cup opener between Brazil and Croatia for many fans across the globe.

Referee Yuichi Nishimura called a penalty kick against Croatia in the 69th minute when Brazilian forward Fred fell inside the 18-yard box after drawing light contact from defender Dejan Lovren.

Neymar put the Brazilians up, 2-1, on the ensuing penalty kick en route to a 3-1 victory, but ESPN commentator Ian Darke summed up what many fans thought of the call: “Never in a million years.”


Controversial calls are nothing new to the World Cup. Here are some of the most polemic rulings in the tournament’s history.

England’s “Wembley Goal” in the 1966 Final

Eleven minutes into overtime in the 1966 World Cup Final between West Germany and host England, Geoff Hurst received the ball outside Germany’s six-yard box and took a shot at goal. His strike went past the German goalkeeper, hit the top crossbar and bounced down before being cleared by a German defender. It was unclear whether the entire ball had crossed the goal line as is required for a goal to be awarded, but after consulting with his linesman, referee Gottfried Dienst gave the goal to England. Hurst would score again in the final minute to win the game, 4-2, in Wembley Stadium, but the third controversial goal is widely credited with earning the country its first and only World Cup championship.

“The Hand of God”

Diego Maradona scored one of the most infamous goals in World Cup history during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and England. When England midfielder Steve Hodge miscued a ball and sent it back toward his goalkeeper Peter Shilton in the 51st minute, Maradona followed the ball and leaped into the air to battle for the ball with the 6-foot-1 Shilton. In one of the most notorious plays in tournament history, Maradona stretched out his left hand to beat Shilton to the ball and tapped it into the back of the net. Referee Ali Bin Nasser did not see the infraction and ruled the goal valid. Four minutes later, Maradona would dribble past six England players to score what many call the Goal of the Century en route to a 2-1 victory and, ultimately, the World Cup championship. After the game, Maradona would cheekily say the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the Hand of God.”

Zidane Head Butt


It was the head butt heard ‘round the world. Zinedine Zidane, who orchestrated France’s first World Cup win when it hosted the tournament in 1998, was the heart and soul of the 2006 French team. But in the final between France and Italy, Zidane would exit the game a villain. In the second half of overtime, after a war of words with Italian defender Marco Materazzi, Zidane turned and head butted the Italian, knocking him to the ground. Zidane was red-carded for the infraction and was unavailable for the rest of the game and the ensuing penalty kick shootout, which Italy won, 5-3.

Luis Suarez Handball

Uruguay and Ghana had to decide their 2010 quarterfinal match by a penalty shootout after battling to a 1-1 tie over 120 minutes. But the game would not have gone that far had it not been for Luis Suarez and the 21st century incarnation of the “Hand of God.” Late in the second half of overtime Suarez blocked a Stephen Appiah shot at the goal line. On the ensuing rebound, Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah would have scored on a header, but Suarez blatantly used his hands to prevent the goal. Suarez was red-carded but Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty kick. Uruguay would win, 4-2, in penalties to advance to the semifinals. After the game, Suarez would say: “The Hand of God now belongs to me.… I made the best save of the tournament.”