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Most controversial football matches of all time

Mon 01 March 2021 | 12:30

Which match do you remember to be one of the most controversial football games ever? What moment had your jaw dropped due to how ridiculous it was? Follow us below as we take a brief look at some of the football matches that are etched into our brains forever for how controversial they were.

One thing that we have learned over the years and continue learning time and time again, is that football is full of beautiful, weird, horrible, horrific, controversial and historic moments, that stick with us for the rest of our lives. These memories outlive everyone as they stay a part of football and world history, which is why many would have at least a little idea about some of the

most controversial games in soccer history

that are mentioned on this article.

We have seen so many great moments in football, with players, managers, referees and even fans doing something truly historic to be remembered until the end of time. But while such moments do have a good feel to them, there are other moments in football matches that outright outrage us as we yell, shout and scream in fury and disappointment over how these matches unraveled in the end, whether it being due to poor refereeing, bad weather, or fights amongst the footballers who are usually advocates of fair play and friendship.

Surely many of you are curious to know which of the most controversial football matches of all time we are talking about, as there are more than plenty of moments in games to have our blood pressure figures soar through the sky for years. While we cannot cover all of these matches and moments, we have provided below some of our choices that truly enraged fans back in the day.

Of course we have already talked about some of

The Most Controversial Moments in Football History

before, but these moments did not necessarily happen during the match itself. There are of course some similar moments mentioned here as well, as these events were too controversial and historic for us not to mention them once again and in every other list that we make about a similar subject.

Most controversial matches in football history

From the game between West Germany and Austria, to Chelsea’s sad defeat against

Barcelona

and Zidane’s famous headbutt that saw a truly disappointing end to the Frenchman’s career, here are some of the most controversial football matches of all time, that surely you were enraged witnessing a number of them. One of the exceptions that we did not put on this list was Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” incident. But the moment was so historic that we had to mention it as a bonus fact.

The Red Devils v Gunners brawl

  • Match: Manchester United v Arsenal

English teams, especially those fighting in the country’s top-flight, are known for their intense, thrilling and at times violent rivalries. We have born witness to dozens of memorable incidents in the matches played in England’s first tier, which have subsequently sparked debates, controversies and arguments between fans, the clubs, the players and even the media. The Premier League holds in its long history some of the

most controversial football games ever

, with one such example being the clash between

Manchester United

and Arsenal.

The Red Devils and The Gunners have always had their fair share of rivalry and drama throughout the years, with the two clubs going neck and neck for the

Premier League

title year after year, especially during the heated rivalry between two legendary former managers, Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. While the English football truly prospered thanks to the extreme rivalry between the two managers and their clubs attracting a lot of attention on the international stage, it also paved the way for some of the most controversial football matches of all time.

There have been many moments in the rivalry between the two clubs that were worth mentioning on this list, but few came close to the intentionally heated and even violent clash between Man United and Arsenal on 24 October way back in 2004. "All eyes turned and all mouths gawped to see this pizza slip off that famous puce face and roll down his nice black suit.", these were the words that former Manchester United player Ashley Coles used in his autobiography to describe only a brief moment from the match.

The game itself was as violent and physical as it could get, with players lunging into dangerous tackles just to hurt their opponents. Jose Antonio Reyes and

Cristiano Ronaldo

were the main targets from each team, as the Neville brothers both got booked for horrendous tackles. But while the match itself had its violent moments, it turned into one of the

most controversial football matches of all time

, when a food fight begun in the tunnel to the dressing rooms as players and officials from both sides took on each other.

During all that chaos, one particular

Arsenal

player, who was later alleged to be Cesc Fabregas, threw a piece of pizza which landed straight on Sir Alex Ferguson’s face, which later gave the fight the name of “Battle of the Buffet” and the “Battle of Old Trafford Mark II”. The name alone justifies the game being on the list of most controversial games in soccer history.

La Remontada

  • Match: Barcelona v PSG

Before moving on to describe what we mean by the Remontada controversy, it is better that we share a quick disclaimer that we are not picking any sides when it comes to difficult decisions in football, which usually tend to have many people on the fence. One such example is the historic Remontada, literary translated to The Comeback, during which Barcelona managed to magically complete a comeback against

Paris Saint-Germain

in the 2016-17 Champions League Round of 16.

Probably no one could have imagined such a scoreline to be true, as The Balugrana managed to beat the Parisians 6-1 in the Camp Nou, which put them 6-5 ahead on aggregate. The scoreline itself is of course historic, but the way that

Lionel Messi

and his teammates got to reach such a scoreline was what made people debate and argue over the memorable match.

There have been split ideas between fans of football on this particular game, as nobody know if the match officials had made a mistake or if their decisions were correct, with others debating only on whether the referee was bribed or just wanted Barcelona to win. In the aftermath of the game, the referee was under heavy pressure as there were talks of him being demoted by the governing body, as some of his decisions were clearly and wrongly in Barcelona’s favor, with the second penalty that he awarded the Catalans being the cherry on top of the disastrous cake.

In one of the most controversial football matches of all time, with or without the intentional help and favorable rulings for Barcelona from the officials, the Spanish giants still managed to overturn such a lead, with the club completing the largest comeback in Champions League history. Edinson Cavani score PSG’s only goal in the second leg, with the goals for Barcelona coming from

Luis Suarez

, Layvin Kurzawa, Lionel Messi,

Neymar

(who has since switched clubs and joined Paris Saint-Germain), and finally Sergi Roberto, who scored his club’s winning goal in the literal dying moments of the game in the 95th minute.

The referee Deniz Aytekin’s memory still haunts PSG fans in their dreams, as they cannot get over the fact that they fell victim to Barcelona in one of the

most controversial matches in football history

, and hope that this time will be different, as they go head to head with Ronald Koeman’s side in the Champions League Round of 16 once again, having won the first leg 4-1 at Camp Nou.

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Neymar biography

How is this not rigged?

  • Match: West Germany v Austria

Among the most controversial football matches of all time, there are instances where the match gets on everyone’s, especially the fans’ nerves and causes quite a debate on who was right and who was wrong in the aftermath. We have had many controversies over the years in football, with many side deals and match-fixing scandals completely ruining a club’s run of form and holding them back from winning a major title for years, just like the Calciopoli scandal, which saw some of the top teams in the Italian

Serie A

get point reduction penalties and even relegation to Serie B.

But while off-the-pitch scandals have been seen here and there amongst strong teams who fixed matches and officials to get better results on the betting market, few have been scandalous enough to force FIFA or the respective governing body to change the rules and improve the regulations, so that there wouldn’t be any other mishap like that.

There is one particular instance in which both sides had made a pre-match agreement behind the curtains so that the result would be in both of their favors, which truly deserves to be on the list of most controversial football matches of all time, as it even got its own special name. The game dates back to 25 June 1982, when West Germany went head to head with Austria at the El Molinon Stadium in Gijon.

This was going to be the final match of the group that the two national teams were in, competing for a qualification to the next round of the 1982 World Cup. The expectations were quite high for this game, as it could prove to be one of the most thrilling matches of the competition, but instead turned into one of the most controversial matches in football history, as the two sides had clearly agreed on an obviously intentional scoreline, so that both could go through to the next round.

West Germany and Austria were in the same group as Algeria, who had already secured a place in the next round of the World Cup with the condition of West Germany not winning their final match with a positive goal difference. While Algerians awaited for their fate to be decided and finally go through to the next round, hoping for Germany to lose against Austria, the two sides obviously had other plans, as a ridiculous goal was scored by the Germans in less than ten minutes into the first half.

In one of the most controversial football games ever, the two teams continued playing like mere children, with misplaced passes and no real attempts at either goals, not threatening each other with even a single move.

As the game was obviously rigged, FIFA could not overturn the scoreline and order a rematch between the two sides, as it only led to a change in the rules of the game, that saw the two final matches of the group stage be held concurrently from then after. Nevertheless, West Germany versus Austria, or the “Disgrace of Gijon”, will always be in our memories as one of the most controversial games in soccer history.

Related Article: 

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Someone calm down Zizou

  • Match: France v Italy

One of the most iconic and talented players of all time, who went on to conquer the world with France,

Juventus

and Real Madrid and became a role model and an idol for hundreds of thousands and even millions of children who grew up watching the legendary footballer, is the former France international Zinedine Zidane, whose name will forever echo in the football halls of fame.

The former attacking midfielder, who is currently active as the manager of

Real Madrid

, with whom he went on to make history both as a player and a manager, had quite a career for himself throughout the years. He is known and considered by many to be the best attacking midfielder to ever grace the pitch with his beautiful touch, his special dribbling technique and laser-guided passing ability, which had made him a deadly and quite prolific in the midfield.

While Zinedine Zidane did get to enjoy a prosperous career as a footballer, his international career did not have a rather “happy ending” in the end, as he alone single-handedly turned his last game for France into one of the most controversial football matches of all time, which also probably cost his country the 2006 World Cup. In the final game of the competition watched by literally billions of people on earth, Zidane did something truly strange and violent, which created an implosion as viewers and commentators were stunned to see it happen with their own eyes.

All was going well for the two teams who had locked horns in the 2006 World Cup final and many were rightly expecting the game to go into the extra time and even penalties, as both sides were powerful enough to defend against any offensive tactics of the opposition, keeping the scoreline 1-1 until the end. Amongst all the tension of a harsh but fair game, however, Zidane backtracked and suddenly smashed his head into the chest of the unsuspecting Italy international Marco Materazzi, who fell down in pain as everyone’s jaws dropped to the ground.

The game truly was worthy of being on the list of most controversial football matches of all time, as the Frenchman saw a straight red card and had to go into the dressing room, passing by the World Cup trophy on his way out, knowing that he was never going to get his hands on that trophy as a player ever again.

Of course there were hopes of winning the final against

Italy

, but his hopes proved him wrong as

France

lost to the Italians in 5-3 in the penalty shootouts, which broke the hearts of the French for the second time that night.

Related Article: 

Zinedine Zidane Biography

Barcelona? Again?

  • Match: Chelsea v Barcelona

Barcelona fans might be offended and think that we have deliberately put their club’s name in two of the most scandalous games in history, as fans of rival clubs might believe that we are in the right to do so. Of course in reality, this is only a coincidence that Barcelona have been involved in two of the

most controversial football matches of all time

. Or is it?

Kidding aside, the Champions League heartbreak that

Chelsea

players and supporters felt in the clash against the Catalans was probably one of the saddest moments in football history, as unjust and incorrect rulings robbed Chelsea of a Champions League title in the 2008-09 season. This was another match where many believed that Barcelona only got through thanks to horrendous mistakes from the officials, as Tom Henning was heavily criticized for his refereeing performance during the game.

Of course even though this was not the final itself, it was certainly the road to the Champions League final, as the Blues did everything in their power to go through by breaking the 1-1 tie against Barcelona. But refereeing mistakes obviously stopped the English side from doing so and gave birth to another one of the most controversial football matches of all time. Mistakes, mistakes and even more mistakes, there were numerous clear fouls on Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba by Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, but none were given to Chelsea.

There were a couple of instances when Barcelona players, namely Samuel Eto’o and the club’s king of handballs

Gerrard Pique

, handled the ball inside the box, but no penalties were given by Henning. Some of the Chelsea players were on the verge of crying due to the clear injustice that they were witnessing. In the end, in a game which was not only one of the most controversial football matches of all time, but also one of the saddest games in football history, Barcelona went through to the final thanks to a late winner from club legend Andres Iniesta.

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