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First XI

First XI: World Cup villains

June 2, 2010
By Wim Van Walle
(Archive)

The World Cup has a history of producing legends, but there are also those whose reputation was forever tarnished by their antics at the tournament. Here, we select a list of the greatest World Cup villains.

Claudio Gentile keeps close to Zico in 1982
GettyImagesClaudio Gentile keeps close to Zico in 1982

Chile and Italy (1962) When commentator David Coleman introduced the television highlights of the Chile-Italy game in June 1962, he warned that it was "the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game". The first foul came after 12 seconds, but the incident that turned game into battle was the sending off of Giorgio Ferrini, who refused to leave the pitch and was dragged off by officials and police. The game deteriorated into a succession of punches, kicks, spitting and violent fouling, with the police intervening two more times. Leonel Sanchez punched Mario David, who soon retaliated by kicking Sanchez in the head. Sanchez immediately punched David again. Then there was Sanchez' infamous left hook, breaking Humberto Maschio's nose. Amazingly, English referee Ken Aston only sent off two players. He later said he had wanted to stop the game, but feared it would cause riots.

Joao Morais (1966) A meeting that should have been famous for bringing head to head two of the period's most talented footballers in Pele and Eusebio will always be remembered for the way Pele was treated by the Portuguese players, Joao Morais in particular. Having been kicked around the pitch in the first game against Bulgaria and left out for the second game, Pele returned for the encounter with Portugal far from fully fit. A violent game, with cynical fouls from both sides, culminated in a vicious double chop on Pele by Morais. Pele limped through the remainder of the game and vowed never to play in a World Cup again, although he did of course change his mind.

Claudio Gentile (1982) Claudio Gentile was one of the World Cup greats, but he was never known for his technical ability, gaining a reputation for his uncompromising style as a tough as nails man-marker. Former England international Gordon Hill famously said of Gentile that he "would stand on his grandmother's head to get the ball". In the second group phase of the 1982 tournament, Gentile made his mark. Against Argentina, he kept Diego Maradona out of the game by kicking him constantly, on or off the ball, amassing an unprecedented 23 fouls. Afterwards, Gentile quipped that football was "not for ballerinas". He continued in the same style against Brazil. The first of many vicious tackles on Zico came early in the game and soon after he ripped the Brazilian playmaker's shirt in half in a tussle. Gentile maintains that he was not a dirty player, merely a tough tackler.

Harald 'Toni' Schumacher (1982) Deep into the second half of the semi-final between France and West Germany, at 1-1, Patrick Battiston latched on to a Michel Platini pass, getting a shot in just ahead of the German goalkeeper. Schumacher forgot about the ball and went for a challenge anyway. He jumped at full speed, smashing his hip into Battiston's face, knocking the Frenchman out cold. The referee, amazingly, gave a goal kick. Schumacher stood with the ball, waiting for play to resume while Battiston was stretchered off, with the whole French team incredulous at the decision. Battiston suffered damage to the vertebrae and lost two teeth in the incident. Schumacher never apologised.

Diego Maradona (1986) When England met Argentina in the 1986 quarter-finals, emotions were running high because of the recent Falklands war. In the sixth minute of the second half, a miscued clearance by Steve Hodge led to Diego Maradona and Peter Shilton going for the same ball. While everyone expected the much taller goalkeeper to easily punch clear, Maradona got to the ball first and punched it over Shilton and into the net. He said afterwards that he had scored with the "Hand of God", claiming it was retribution for the young lives lost in the Falklands. Maradona showed his amazing skills later in the game with one of the goals of the century, but England will always feel they were cheated out by the "Hand of God".

Frank Rijkaard (1990) During an ill-tempered game between old enemies West Germany and Netherlands, Rudi Voller went down after slight contact with Rijkaard. A free kick and a yellow card for Rijkaard followed. Feeling cheated, Rijkaard ran past Voller and spat in the German's hair. Voller's protests brought another yellow before the free kick was taken. The free-kick led to an altercation between Voller and goalkeeper Hans van Breukelen. Rijkaard again got involved, taunting Voller by pulling his hair and ear and, in the subsequent near punch-up, both were sent off. On their way to the tunnel, Rijkaard again spat at Voller. They reportedly had a go at each other near the dressing rooms, with punches traded. Rijkaard did later apologise and the two now enjoy a friendly relationship, even appearing together in a humorous television advert.

Tab Ramos lies with a fractured skull as Leonardo gets his marching orders
PA PhotosTab Ramos lies with a fractured skull as Leonardo gets his marching orders

Leonardo (1994) Hardly known as a dirty player, Leonardo did have his moment of madness in a second round game at the 1994 World Cup, which pitched Brazil against hosts USA. Late in the first half, at 0-0, Tab Ramos turned away from Leonardo after they had tussled for the ball. With full force, he viciously and deliberately elbowed the American in the face, leaving him on the grass in agony. Ramos would spend over three months in hospital but did play again for the USA. Leonardo was banned for four World Cup games, the second longest ban in World Cup history. He did apologise, saying he hadn't meant to hurt Ramos.

Mauro Tassotti (1994) If Leonardo's ban was the second longest, it was only because of the massive eight-game suspension handed to Italy's Tassotti after officials reviewed an incident in the 1994 quarter-final against Spain, which the Azzurri won 2-1. In second-half injury time, with Spain on a last-gasp attack, a cross came in from the right wing. Luis Enrique stormed into the box to meet it when Tassotti landed a nauseating elbow into his face. No penalty was given and play was only stopped because Enrique, who is said to have lost a pint of blood in the incident, could not get to his feet. Tassotti, who would repeatedly claim he never meant to hurt his opponent, never played for Italy again.

Diego Simeone (1998) Argentina's Simeone is the only player to get opponents sent off in two consecutive games. First there was the famous incident in the second round against England. Having violently jumped into the back of David Beckham, Simeone proceeded to taunt his victim, tugging the England player's hair. Beckham fell into Simeone's trap and reacted with a petulant flick of his leg. Simeone, eyes firmly on the referee, fell down in a heap. Beckham was sent off and with him went England's chances. Simeone was at it again in the next game against Netherlands. At full speed, he was challenged in midfield by Arthur Numan, who was already on a yellow card. While Numan did foul him, it was Simeone's reaction, rolling over no less than eight times, that made sure the second yellow came out and Numan was sent off. Two games, two opponents sent off. Bergkamp eventually stopped Argentina with one of the best goals in World Cup history.

Rivaldo feigns injury to ensure Hakan Unsal's dismissal at the 2002 tournament
GettyImagesRivaldo feigns injury to ensure Hakan Unsal's dismissal at the 2002 tournament

Rivaldo (2002) During the first of two games between Brazil and Turkey in 2002, Rivaldo was waiting for the ball at the corner flag. Hakan Unsal played it back to him and the ball hit the Brazilian's knee. Rivaldo clutched his face and fell down as if shot from the stands. FIFA looked into the matter and issued a statement condemning Rivaldo's actions, but there was no punishment other than a weak 11,500 Swiss francs penalty. When asked about the incident after the World Cup, Rivaldo showed no regret, saying cheating was part of the game and everybody did it.

Marco Materazzi (2006) Towards the end of the 2006 final between France and Italy, Materazzi exchanged words with Zinedine Zidane after holding the French ace's shirt for a few seconds. Materazzi later said that Zidane had arrogantly told him that he could have the shirt after the game if he wanted. Materazzi responded by insulting Zidane, seriously enough to make him turn back and butt Materazzi in the chest. Zidane was sent off and did not participate in the penalty shoot-out that ultimately decided the game in Italy's favour. It is still unclear what exactly Materazzi said, but Zidane has repeatedly said he would rather die than apologise for the incident.