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A look back at the top 10 most controversial fouls in World Cup history

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From on-pitch bust-ups to horrific fouls, the World Cup has never been short of drama. In preparation for the Qatar 2022 World Cup, here are some of the most shocking penalties, tackles and jaw-dropping events in football’s history and ranked them by their Youtube views count to establish which shocking moment was the most outrageous.

A look back at the top 10 most controversial fouls in World Cup history

1. Zidane’s headbutt meltdown, Germany 2006 – 6,542,673 views 

Zidane’s iconic headbutt on Marco Materazzi is one of the most shocking incidents in FIFA World Cup history. This infamous moment has been replayed by the masses, with a whopping 6.5 million views on YouTube, earning it the position of first place on this list. French Legend Zinedine Zidane retaliated violently with a headbutt when being taunted by Mazaratti during the 2006 World Cup final. Zidane’s reckless behaviour landed him a red card, and now has the legacy of being one of the most talked about moments in modern football history, which ultimately meant that he never played professionally again. 

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The incident has since been memorialised as a bronze statue, unveiled in Paris in 2012 and later displayed in Qatar. After being removed from Doha seafront in 2013 following controversy that the statue went against Islamic rules, it is now being reinstalled in Qatar as they prepare to host the 2022 World Cup.  

2. Harald Schumacher knocks out Patrick Battiston, Spain 1982 – 3,230,113 views 

In one of the most brutal fouls of World Cup history, French Defender Patrick Battiston lost two teeth, cracked ribs and suffered a broken vertebra after English Goalkeeper Schumacher knocked him out on the pitch. After the vicious attack, Battiston lay unresponsive for 7 minutes as a stretcher was carried to the pitch and he awaited treatment. Shockingly, Schumacher did not receive any punishment for his foul. The savage attack has now been dubbed the ‘Tragedy of Seville’ and for Battiston, who still suffers from his injuries 40 years on, it truly is a tragedy. Viewed over 3.2 million times, this famed incident lands the number two spot in our rankings. 

3. Battle of Nuremberg, Germany 2006 – 2,566,783 views 

Tempers flared when Portugal played the Netherlands in 2006 as violence unfolded on the pitch. The Battle of Nuremberg had begun within the first two minutes of play, when Mark van Bommel committed a foul against Portugal’s key player, Christiano Ronaldo, forcing him from the pitch. From then on, carnage continued to unfold as a record breaking four red cards and 16 yellow cards were dished out by the time the game had ended. This historical moment has been watched over 2.5 million times, pushing it to the number three spot.

4. Benjamin Massing vs Claudio Cannigia, Italy 1990 – 2,062,923 views

Cameroon’s Benjamin Massing crashes into Argentine attacker Claudio Cannigia during the 1990 World Cup, landing him a red card for a dangerous tackle. Immediately before the incident, Cannigia managed to avoid tackles from two Cameroon defenders, before being met with a violent tackle from Massing. The theatrics of this tackle is undeniable as the incident sends Cannigia flying through the air whilst Massing’s boot simultaneously flies off. Following this, Massing then kicks Jorge Burruchaga without his shoe on before being sent off of the pitch. The incident has been rewatched over 2 million times, landing this fiery tackle in 4th place in our rankings. 

5. Luis Suarez takes a bite (again!), Brazil 2014 – 1,156,522 views 

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During an on-pitch scuffle, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez bit Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini during the Brazil 2014 World Cup, leading to Suarez receiving a four month ban from football-related activity. This shocking moment has been watched over 1.1 million times, becoming an infamous part of popular culture. This was the third time that Suarez has bitten a player during a match, but this time FIFA gave him a 4-month ban from football related activity, effectively removing him from the World Cup that year. It gets worse still, as Suarez was fined a whopping £65,680 for the incident – looks like he bit off more than he could chew! 

6. Nigel De Jong’s karate kick, South Africa 2010 – 1,166,968 views  

During the final of the 2010 South African World Cup between Spain and the Netherlands, we saw Nigel De Jong practice his karate moves on the pitch. This infamous moment has been watched over 1 million times, and saw the Dutch midfielder ‘karate kick’ Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso’s chest, causing Alonso to fall to the ground writhing in pain. Controversially, De Jong’s unruly kick only landed him a yellow card. However, Alonso came out on top as Spain took home the trophy, winning the match 1-0 after extra time. 

7. Rijkaard spits at Völler, Italy 1990 – 1,077,637 views

Two rivals clashed during the Italy 1990 World Cup when Dutch player Frank Rijkaard spat at German player Rudi Völler. The incident happened after Rijkaard was given a yellow card when he fouled Völler. Angry at this, he ran towards Völler and spat in his hair. Strangely it was Völler that got given a yellow card, for retaliating after being spat on. Later on in the game, another altercation ensued whereby Rijkaard stamps on Völler’s foot and spits on him for a second time, resulting in both players to be sent off. Völler’s unjust send off left an air of bitterness, and the visual of Völler being spat on is an image that is etched into our minds even all these years later. With over 1 million views, this moment goes down as one of the most shocking moments of World Cup history.

8. Leonardo’s elbow incident, USA 1994 – 492,294 views 

In a match against the US, Brazil’s Leonardo Araújo lashed out at American midfielder Tab Ramos – using his elbow as his weapon. The referee rightfully gave Leonardo a red card whilst Ramos lay on the ground in the agonising pain of a fractured skull. This violent moment has been replayed almost half a million times, leaving the incident in eighth place in our list. When Ramos felt the sheer force of Leonardo’s unruly tackle, he lost consciousness for several seconds and Doctors later confirmed that a small brain bleed occurred. However, Leonardo did not go unpunished as FIFA gave him a 4-match ban, which effectively ruled him out of the rest of the competition.

9. Mauro Tassotti on Luis Enrique, USA 1994 – 333,094 views 

Although Tassotti was a well-renowned player after winning his first World Cup in 1992, his career will always be shrouded by his actions at the quarter-final between Italy and Spain at USA 94. Italian right-back Mauro Tassotti struck Luis Enrique in the face with his elbow, breaking his nose in an illegal tackle, which led to Tassotti receiving an 8-match ban. After the incident, he never played for Italy again. Watched over 300,000 times, this prominent moment in football history reaches ninth place in our rankings. 

10.  Joe Batista’s speedy exit from the pitch, Mexico, 1986 – 141,955 views 

Uruguay’s left-back Joe Batista clashed with Gordon Strachan with a very early foul just 52 seconds into the Uruguay vs Scotland game. Despite having a one-player advantage for the whole game, the match finished with a disappointing 0-0 result. Although the fastest red card in the history of the World Cup, Joe Batista’s violent tackle has the lowest viewership on our list with just 141,000 views of the incident on YouTube, ranking this incident in tenth place. 

Read: Top 10 players who were omitted from the World Cup 2022

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Rahul Roy
Rahul Roy
I am a computer guy by profession and a sports fanatic by choice.

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