The most convincing indication of a football referee doing a good job is when little is said or written about his performance on the pitch. In the history of the FIFA World Cup, there have been excellent officials, with vast knowledge and lots of personality, although others have also left an imprint not precisely for making the best calls. Which have been the worst refereeing mistakes made by the men in black?
GOTTFRIED DIENST, REFEREE OF THE 1966 WORLD CUP FINAL BETWEEN ENGLAND AND WEST GERMANY
The so-called “inventors of football” have only reached one World Cup Final. It happened in 1966, at their mythical Wembley Stadium, against the West Germans. With the score level at 2-2, that match went into extra time.
In the 11th minute of the first half of extra time, England star Geoff Hurst let out a shot that went past German goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski. The ball hit the underside of the bar, but did not touch the goal line. The hosts claimed that the ball had gone in, but Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst was unable to see the play clearly and consulted with Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov. They both decided to award a goal to the English, eliciting spirited protests by the Germans. That “ghost goal” helped England win their only World Cup.
ALI BENNACEUR, THE TUNISIAN WHO AWARDED MARADONA’S HAND OF GOD IN 1986
The most controversial goal in World Cup history was scored by Argentinian legend Diego Armando Maradona. On July 22, 1986, England and Argentina faced off in the quarterfinals, four years after the Falklands War.
In minute 51, Jorge Valdano and Maradona played a one-two pass and the ball bounced off an English defender. Diego jumped for a header at the same time as goalkeeper Peter Shilton, but the Argentinian beat him to the punch… quite literally. The balled bounced into the goal and Tunisian official Ali Bennaceur didn’t notice Diego’s illegal action, nor did the linesman. The English remonstrated abundantly, but the goal went up on the scoreboard.
“I scored that goal a little bit with my head and a little bit with the hand of God”, Maradona said years later.
SÁNDOR PUHL, THE REFEREE WHO MISSED THE ELBOW THAT BROKE LUIS ENRIQUE’S NOSE IN 1994
Hungarian referee Sándor Puhl, who passed away at 65 in 2001, officiated many important matches in his career, but his work was tarnished by a gross mistake he made in the quarterfinal match between Italy and Spain at the 1994 World Cup.
Italian defender Mauro Tassotti brutally elbowed Luis Enrique inside the box. The Spanish player immediately started to bleed profusely and the entire Iberian team demanded that Puhl send Tassotti off and call a penalty kick. Spain was down 1-2 in injury time, so Puhl’s decision would be key. The ref indicated there was no foul play. He waved play on, even though the blood kept rushing out of the nose of Luis Enrique, now the manager of the Spanish national team.
Related article: 10 Football Stars Who Never Won The World Cup
BYRON MORENO, THE REFEREE WHO WAS EXPELLED FROM THE WORLD CUP
The South Koreans got as much help as they could to end up among the four best teams of the 2002 World Cup.
The shameful complicity of the officials began in the round of 16 match against Italy. That day, Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno officiated on the pitch. The man did everything to favor the hosts. First, he failed to send off a South Korean player who hit Alessandro Del Piero in the face; then he disallowed a legal Italian goal in extra time; he gave a non-existent penalty to South Korea and sent off Francesco Totti, supposedly for diving inside the box.
It was such an outrage that FIFA kicked Moreno out of that World Cup and withdrew his work license. Match-fixing allegations were never proven, but he never officiated an international match again.
GAMAL AL-GHANDOUR, THE EGYPTIAN WHO HELPED SOUTH KOREA ADVANCE IN THEIR OWN WORLD CUP
In the quarterfinal match, the hosts played Spain, and the match made history due to the scandalous calls made by the Egyptian referee Gamal Al-Ghandour. The official disallowed two legal goals scored by the Spaniards.
Al-Ghandour first ruled out a goal scored by Rubén Baraja. The supposed “reason” was that the Spanish player had committed a previous foul. In reality, no such foul had existed. But the worst was yet to come; the Egyptian disallowed a second goal by Fernando Morientes because, allegedly, the ball had crossed the touchline before it was slotted in the South Korean goal. This didn’t happen either.
With any of those goals, Spain would have progressed to the semifinals, but the match ended level at 0-0. In the penalty shootout, the South Koreans were luckier.